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Fewer deer cause food bank deposits to drop

Merry Christmas.

This day of giving and sharing, followed with the beginning of Chanukah tonight at sundown, leaves all with a seasonal spirit.

With winter just five days old, needy persons and families will be looking for sources of food to endure the cold. Hunters annually contribute to the Food Bank of WNY's food services programs through venison-donation organizations.

But this year has been a difficult one for hunters' charitable donations of venison.

"I just don't know why the numbers are down so much this year," said Clem Eckert, while going over ground venison donation figures for last year and this hunting season.

"With Deer Management Permits cut as much as 60 percent in some units, hunts just can't take as many deer this year as they did in past seasons," said Jim Snider, Department of Environmental Conservation senior wildlife biologist.

Snider had seen good numbers of bigger bucks come through gun-season check stations. But the number of doe kills remained low. Taxidermists around the region generally have taken in about as many trophy-class whitetails as in years past, but the overall deer take has dropped from last year -- not a good sign for venison donations.

"It's probably a mix of fewer permits and simply less deer out there," said Dave Elliott at Nature's Way Taxidermy and Deer Processing in Sanborn.
"We're just about on par with last year for trophy mounts, but donations for processing has steadily dropped over the past four years and markedly since last year."

During the 2003 and 2004 seasons, he provided about 1,000 to 1,500 pounds of ground venison for the Food Bank. "This year we hit just over 500 pounds at the end of the season," he said.

"Hunters like to eat venison and many have had a tough time seeing and getting deer this year."

Even with deer donations down, spirits remain high at the Food Bank of Western New York facilities on Holt Street. "We have 29 full-time employees and three seasonal workers," Clem Eckert said during a walking tour of the building last week, "and they all work for the love of the food-service program."

Eckert, with the formal title of president and CEO, functions more like a proud father or new homeowner when showing visitors around the warehouse, coolers, freezer, sorting area and offices.

"(The workers) don't make much here, but they all have a sense of sharing," he said, as skids of goods were checked and placed in a truck that will deliver goods to one or more of the 466 agencies the Food Bank serves in counties throughout Western New York.

"How's this for keeping cool?" he said as we entered a 5,000-square-foot freezer that remains constantly at minus 4 degrees. "They really like these servings," he said, pointing to boxes of freshly frozen venison that had just arrived.

Clients at shelters, soup kitchens and all sites where meals are prepared and served continually ask him about venison presence among the meat deliveries.

An average-sized deer will provide about 160 servings, which helps supplement the more than 13 million pounds of food that will be distributed to all Western New York sites in 2005.

Venison connoisseurs may be disheartened to learn that processors prepare all venison -- prime cuts of loins, chops, steaks and roasts -- in packages of ground meat, which is low in calories, fat and cholesterol yet high in protein without additives or antibiotics.

Deer season ended in New York State at sunset on Tuesday for archers and muzzleloader hunters. Pennsylvania offers a late archery and primitive muzzleloader season beginning Monday and continuing to Jan. 14.

But the more than 20 processors in Western New York will probably receive few late-season donations with the closing in this state and those few diehards wandering nearby Keystone hill country.

Hunters and all kind-hearted folk can make donations to help Food Bank agencies keep serving steady through this long cold winter.

To donate, call 852-1305 or go to: www.foodbankwny.org.

e-mail: wille@pce.net

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