Making the Most of Meat, Even Roadkill

By Beacon Staff

WHITEFISH – Roadkill can feed a lot of people.

That’s why June Munski-Feenan, executive director of the North Valley Food Bank, answers the phone in the middle of the night – might be someone calling about a dead elk.

“There’s no wasted food here,” Munski-Feenan said.

Munski-Feenan said North Valley Food Bank is the only major food bank in the state that collects freshly killed deer and elk after a car hits them. All local law-enforcement agencies, as well as Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, know to contact Munski-Feenan immediately after arriving at the scene of a collision that kills a game animal. If she can get one of the food bank’s many volunteers to pick up the roadkill within an hour, the animal will end up in North Valley’s butchering room.

Within a 12-hour span last week, Munski-Feenan received calls on three different incidents in which a car hit an elk, including a call at 11:30 p.m. She found volunteers to retrieve each one. Among the volunteers are workers from Hill Brothers Auto Body & Towing and Midway Rental who help deal with the heavy animals if necessary.

North Valley also gets confiscated – illegally obtained – deer and elk from FWP during hunting season. Game wardens, Munski-Feenan said, have keys to the food bank’s game room and can drop off game whenever they want. Another source of wild game is the hunters themselves. Munski-Feenan encourages hunters who have too much meat to bring in their excess.

“A lot of the women say, ‘Don’t you dare bring any more meat home,’” Munski-Feenan said. “But (the husbands) still want to hunt.”

Volunteers clean and butcher the animals in a chilly room at the food bank that has a walk-in cooler for storage. In 2007 the North Valley Food Bank handed out a total of 990 pounds – after being butchered and trimmed – of game meat to low-income people. On top of the elk and deer, Munski-Feenan said North Valley receives 600-to-800 pounds of lake trout every year from the Fall Mack Days fishing tournament on Flathead Lake.

James Dodge, food resource developer for the Montana Food Bank Network, said that although North Valley’s roadkill program is unique, utilizing confiscated wild game is routine for the state’s food relief program. Recently, he said, the Food Bank Network took 42 antelope, deer and elk to a cannery in Deer Lodge. There the meat is ground into burger, frozen and sent back to Food Bank Network in Missoula to be distributed to the state’s food relief agencies.

In addition to FWP, the Food Bank Network also gets elk from the National Bison Range and bison that were killed after wandering outside of Yellowstone Park’s boundaries. The network receives donated beef as well.

“Getting this game is huge for us,” Dodge said. “It’s a lot easier to deal with because beef has to be USDA inspected so it adds a few, frankly, expensive wrinkles to the process.”

North Valley is an independent food relief agency separate from the Flathead Food Bank system. It receives no federal funding and only a little food from the state. Munski-Feenan said she relies on donors, which has never proven to be a problem in Whitefish. One donor gives a $10,000 check every year to the food bank.

“People in the area are just tremendous,” she said. “Donations are just out of this world.”

Last year North Valley handed out 368,000 pounds of food to 6,225 households. A box for a large family weighs up to 50 pounds, while a smaller one for an individual might weigh between 15 and 20 pounds. Most people pick up their boxes weekly at the food bank, though volunteers deliver some boxes to homebound people like the elderly or ill. Munski-Feenan and volunteers are also always on call for emergency food services. The food comes from a variety of sources, including private donations, Safeway in Whitefish, Costco, the Montana Food Bank Network and others.

“We’ve got to encourage the stores not to throw anything away,” Munski-Feenan said. “If we can keep these people off of welfare, that helps us all.”