These early days of deer hunting season and, in particular, this week of Thanksgiving highlight the importance and the power of tradition in our lives.
For the past two decades, the tradition of giving inspired by the Southern Tier-based Venison Donation Coalition has made a meaningful difference in many lives and I am always grateful for the opportunity to call attention to its work.
Since 1999, in fact, the Coalition has helped put a good meal on tables across the Southern Tier and Finger Lakes regions, and throughout New York State. Millions of tables, in fact. Today the coalition has more than 90 processors in approximately 52 counties. It has coordinated the processing of an average of 38 tons of venison annually and provided over 4 million highly nutritious, low-fat, high-protein servings to individuals, children, and families in need.
Talk about making a difference, and talk about timely. According to federal statistics, an estimated 15 percent of New York State households live in poverty. The Food Bank of the Southern Tier, a partner of the Venison Donation Coalition, serves over 18,000 people a week – children, seniors, veterans, and so many others — throughout its six–county service area.
Hunting season represents one of the most important economic cycles of the year. Deer hunting is a mainstay of the regional and statewide recreational economies, by some estimates accounting for $2 billion of economic activity and nearly 30,000 jobs statewide. Steuben County, for example, remains one of the Northeast’s premiere deer hunting destinations.
However, back to the Venison Donation Coalition. It is an independent, all-volunteer foundation supported by sportsmen’s organizations, of course, but also by corporations, local farm bureaus, civic and religious groups, and individual citizens. In government, particularly in an era like the current one defined by limited resources to address seemingly infinite demands, we are constantly encouraging individual citizens and organizations to contribute to the overall quality and strength of our communities.
It was 25 years ago when a local “Hunters for the Hungry” program was prepared to donate 400 pounds of venison for distribution to the needy and discovered that state law prevented it. As a result, “Hunters for the Hungry” programs operating throughout New York at that time, 1993, were being told they couldn’t donate over 10,000 pounds of venison to food banks and other organizations providing meals to the unemployed, shut-ins, senior citizens and other needy citizens. It made no sense. As a result, the Legislature quickly acted to establish a program to authorize the donations. The Venison Donation Coalition that resulted is now a broad-based partnership including many area supporters. It has facilitated the donation of venison to food banks, food pantries, soup kitchens, and additional not-for-profit organizations and charities that feed the poor. The response has been overwhelming.
It is, simply put, an admirable effort. Never underestimate the spirit of commitment and giving it has encouraged. As I have often said, we will continue to develop infrastructure, promote tourism, improve schools, protect citizens, and do anything and everything possible to enhance our economic position. However, along with these fundamental responsibilities is a responsibility to the quality of life for everyone. That is what makes the ongoing work of the Venison Donation Coalition important and inspiring.
As the Coalition notes, the donation of just $1 provides four meals. For every dollar donated, the Coalition puts 90 cents towards processing donated venison. For more information, visit the Venison Donation Coalition online at www.venisondonation.com or call 1-866-862-3337 (DEER).