North Valley Food Bank Joins Hunters Against Hunger

Whitefish food bank is now one of program's more than 30 designated meat processors that process wild game to feed hungry Montanans

By Myers Reece
Volunteer meat cutter Scott Nagel puts venison through a meat grinder at the North Valley Food Bank in Whitefish on Oct. 4. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

North Valley Food Bank has long been unique in operating a meat-processing program, accepting cattle, bison and wild game killed either by hunters or vehicles, so long as the roadkill is sufficiently fresh and in good shape.

Now the Whitefish food bank is adding another wrinkle to its meat program: a partnership with Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks (FWP) and the Montana Food Bank Network (MFBN) to be a designated processor for Hunters Against Hunger.

“It’s an exciting partnership,” North Valley Food Bank Executive Director Jessy Lee said. “Not only are we continuing to process and distribute healthy and sustainably harvested meat, we will now receive funds from Hunters Against Hunger to do so.”

The MFBN and FWP run the statewide Hunters Against Hunger program, in which hunters who legally harvest big game can donate all or part of their meat to feed hungry Montanans. Anyone who applies for or purchases a Montana hunting license for deer, antelope, elk, moose or wild buffalo has the opportunity to make a donation of $1 or greater to the program to help with processing and distribution costs.

Eric Luongo, agency resource coordinator for the MFBN, said this year the program raised $100,000 in license donations, the most in the program’s history since it launched in 2014, initially as a pilot project. The funds are distributed to processors. Luongo said the second way hunters contribute is by donating meat.

“It’s really hunters giving back in multiple ways,” he said. “It’s a big community effort.”

Roughly 30 butcher shops participated statewide last year, and Luongo said another seven or eight have signed on this year. The two major geographical gaps in the program were southeastern and northwestern Montana, a void now being filled by a participating processor in Billings and two in the greater Flathead: North Valley Food Bank and Beeman’s Hometown Butcher Shop in Eureka.

Lee said the MFBN approached North Valley Food Bank this summer about participating.

“They were having a tough time finding a meat processer in the area who had the time to participate in the program,” Lee said. “It was a natural fit for North Valley Food Bank, as we check both the meat-processing and the food-security boxes. We won’t change what we do; we will just be receiving a sustainable funding stream now.”

Participating butchers process the meat to be given to a food bank in the area, but the North Valley Food Bank is unique in that it’s both the processor and the distributor.

Freshly packaged ground venison sits on a counter at the North Valley Food Bank in Whitefish on Oct. 4. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

Hunters who wish to donate meat can deliver their harvested game to the nearest participating processor and say whether they would like to donate all or part of the animal. If a hunter wants to keep some of the meat, the processor takes a photocopy of the tag to remain with the donated meat, while the original license stays with the hunter’s share.

“Participation by local meat processors and hunters is the key to success to be able to help provide quality, local protein that is a vital nutrition in a healthy diet,” the MFBN states.

Luongo said the ground game meat is popular at food banks.

“I get feedback that a lot of clients are very happy that it’s available,” he said. “A lot of them grew up eating it, and it’s healthier as well, a little less fat.”

Hunters who want to donate game to North Valley Food Bank should call (406) 862-5863 to schedule a drop-off time. The food bank is open from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Monday through Friday. It prefers field-dressed and skinned animals but accepts whole animals if necessary.

Those interested in volunteering with the food bank’s butcher team should contact Kristie Lukes at [email protected] or call the main number.

For more information about Hunters Against Hunger, including a list of participating processors, visit www.mfbn.org/hunters-against-hunger.

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