As the multitasking Tony DeRossett delivers mail on his route in Bonner Springs, he often is on his cellphone working to put meat on the tables of the state’s hungry.
“I talk while I drive or walk,” he said. “We do what we have to do to do the things we want to do.”
As president of Kansas Hunters Feeding the Hungry, DeRossett’s efforts ensure unwanted harvested deer meat can find its way to the needy.
“I’ve been told in the past if you ask a food pantry the top three things they need it would be meat, meat and meat,” he said. “It’s perishable and it’s expensive, so that makes it doubly hard to keep on the shelves.”
The organization works with 40 locker plants in Kansas, and DeRossett connects the hunters to the locker plants and the locker plants to food pantries.
Last year, the program arranged for locker plants to process 1,108 deer taken during deer-hunting seasons. DeRossett said that totaled 225,000 meals for hungry Kansans.
Good Shepherd Thrift Store in Tonganoxie was one of the 160 organizations receiving venison last season. Lynn McEachron, one of Good Shepherd’s four managers, said the venison was appreciated.
“It comes fully processed, so a lot of people don’t care if it’s deer meat or beef,” McEachron said. “It helps cut down on our meat bill.”
There’s one more step in the chain from field to table, and it prevented the organization from making even more processed deer available last season, DeRossett said. Donations make it possible for Kansas Hunters Feeding the Hungry to pay locker plants the $65 to process each deer carcass.
“Last year, we couldn’t take any more deer in January,” he said. “Even doing that and missing the last month of the hunting season, we had 100 more deer donated than the year before.”
The $65-per-carcass rate was negotiated some years ago after discussions with several locker plants. DeRossett said he assumed locker plants now were giving the organization a discount rate as costs have increased.
The program is available mostly to the eastern half of the state with Steve’s Meat Market in De Soto and the new Specialty Sausage Co. in Basehor among the local locker plants participating, DeRossett said.
“We’re trying to expand if our budget will allow us,” he said. “We did have a locker out in Goodland, but they have since closed. Just a little past Salina is what we reach at this point.”
DeRossett said he helped found the state organization in 2001 after reading about a similar effort in Maryland. A call to that organization led to connections with two other Kansans with the same interest. The two joined with him to start working with the Kansas Wildlife and Parks to start Kansas Hunters Feeding the Hungry, first as a chapter of a national organization as an independent nonprofit four years ago.
“When you’re out deer hunting, you see lots and lots of deer, and you think of the opportunity to use that renewable resource for the many people who need help,” he said. “It’s not difficult to connect the dots.”
The program also benefits hunters looking for trophy racks rather than meat or those who stopped hunting because they don’t want to waste the meat that neither they nor their families like, DeRossett said.
“There is a moderate number of people who have given up hunting because they didn’t have an outlet of it (venison),” he said. “Or they are now taking their grandchildren hunting because they now have an outlet for it.”