Illinois deer hunters are once again stepping forward to share the bounty of the hunt with those less fortunate. Because of the generosity of hunters and funding support, thousands of pounds of high quality, protein rich ground venison have made their way to food pantry refrigerated shelves in Illinois.

According to Feeding America, in Illinois it is estimated one in 10 residents struggle with hunger including one in eight children. In helping to address the situation, a new project focused on expanding food access was recently allocated funds through University of Illinois Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Education.

The Illinois Deer Donation Program Pilot is connecting meat processors, hunters and food pantries in 12 central Illinois counties: Clay, Coles, Cumberland, DeWitt, Douglas, Effingham, Fayette, Jasper, Macon, Moultrie, Piatt and Shelby. By engaging hunters to donate deer and meat processors to produce ground venison, a local source of lean protein is available to food pantry clients. Clients also receive recipes and resources from Illinois Extension to help prepare venison at home, which might be unfamiliar to individuals and families.

“This will be an opportunity for hunters to help tackle food insecurity in their communities while doing something they enjoy,” says Michelle Fombelle, Extension SNAP-Ed educator.

In addition, the Health Equity Achieved Together (HEAT) Project engages local stakeholders and community members to design and implement its initiatives. HEAT is a multi-disciplinary program to develop and implement innovative strategies to improve health outcomes and reduce community barriers to healthier lifestyles. Working with others across the Extension network enables HEAT to leverage its expertise and networks across the state, maximizing the positive impact on the health of Illinois families. Projects will also plan sustainability and inclusion strategies to ensure the projects have long-lasting community impact.

Hunters are encouraged to donate their entire deer harvest to food banks and charities. Participating meat processors will grind the venison into 2-pound packages of burger. However, hunters MUST properly field dress the animal before delivering to the meat processor. Any questionable deer will not be accepted by the processor. Roadkill deer may not be donated based on the inability to determine time of death.

Venison is richer in protein than any other red meat. It’s good for your body because it promotes muscle growth. It’s also great for your diet because the more protein a food has, the more it satiates your appetite. In other words, when you eat venison, you’ll feel fuller longer.

What are the health benefits of eating venison? Venison is a high-quality (and complete) source of protein, lower in saturated fat than other red meats, and a great source of haem iron – an essential component of red blood cells. Venison is also brimming with zinc and is filled with an array of essential B vitamins.