In South Carolina, where 1 in every 7 people struggles with hunger and 1 in 5 of them is a child, there’s constant demand for whatever food pantries can wrap up for takeaway or soup kitchens can put on the table.
Sometimes, the answer for neighbors helping neighbors is found not with food that comes out of a can but with fare that has been considered a treat for special occasions and is rarely seen on menus.
It’s there for the taking, in the woods of the Palmetto State, every hunting season.
Venison — low-fat red meat that’s rich in protein — is more and more finding its way onto the tables of the chronically hungry.
“Very lean. So it meets all the buzzwords of the day. It’s free range and organic … I mean, you can’t get it any better than deer and as a matter of fact, I’m smoking a venison backstrap right now out here,” said Tim Sorrells, the retired assistant head football coach at Furman University, pointing to the smoker in his backyard near Paris Mountain State Park.
When Sorrells retired from coaching in 2017, he wondered how he would fill his time.
The answer, it seemed, could be found back in Tennessee where his dad grew up on a farm.
“So that’s how I first started loving hunting in the outdoors and that kind of thing,” Sorrells said. “So it was a natural progression for me just to continue that — certainly after I retired — and getting involved with it just from a personal standpoint but now being able to incorporate that love of hunting with also helping people has just been perfect for me.
“I had a great season,” he added. “I killed seven deer total for me this year. I donated three of those seven.”
Growing up in The Volunteer State, Sorrells learned of a program that allowed hunters to donate their kill. When he retired from Furman, he powered up his PC, hunted online for a similar organization, called the number on its website and was invited to a meeting.
Now Sorrells serves as a board member for South Carolina Hunters for the Hungry, whose headquarters is in an old armory in Pacolet that also serves as a food pantry for 150 families, providing cleaning and paper products, canned food and meat — venison when available — two Thursdays a month.
In 2018, the organization donated 70,000 pounds of venison
The white-tailed deer that Sorrells and his hunting buddies shoot are first taken to approved, licensed meat processors where they are turned into roasts, stew meat and tenderloin or simply ground meat and then frozen until a local charity can have someone pick it up.
Hunters who donate their kill are faced with a processing fee averaging $75 per deer, which is either paid by the hunter as a tax-deductible donation or through funds raised by Hunters for the Hungry to offset the cost.
In 2018, the organization donated 70,000 pounds of venison, about the figure projected for 2019 and one that Sorrells says could jump to 300,000 pounds in coming years if the group attracts more volunteers and funding.
But even with the current 70,000 pounds, Sorrells points out, a lot of folks are being fed.
“Well, we think it’s four meals per pound … so that would be 280,000 meals,” he said.
Sorrells acknowledges that hunting deer is off-putting for some people.
“‘Oh, I’m not eating Bambi or whatever … ‘I don’t like the taste of wild game,’ and that’s fine,” he said. “What I have understood and grown to love and appreciate about what we’re doing in our organization is, if you’re hungry you’d love it.
“And so we’re not concerned about the fancier palates,” he added. “We’re concerned about the ones that really need it. And that’s been good for us.”
Sorrells’ group aims to expand the existing network of meat packers, food banks and food pantries across the state.
“Our end goal is to be where we can have a boots-on-the-ground guy in every county” who can manage logistics and fundraising, he said. The organization is also looking for more volunteers to distribute processed meat.
As fundraising efforts continue, Hunters for the Hungry is getting some help from big names.
Furman’s current head football coach, Clay Hendrix, named the group as his beneficiary at a recent South Carolina Coaches for Charity event. Dabo Swinney, head coach at Clemson University, named it one of his All-In Team Foundation’s grant recipients. And the late Sam Wyche (Furman quarterback 1963-1965 and head coach of the Cincinnati Bengals), served as the keynote speaker at a Hunters for the Hungry banquet.
Sorrells’ organization has also received support from Paul Constantine, a Furman graduate and executive at ScanSource, a Fortune 1000 point-of-sale technology company based in Greenville.
In August, Gov. Henry McMaster will be the guest of honor at another banquet, to be held at Philadelphia Baptist Church in Spartanburg County.
There’s no official word on whether fried chicken or venison will be on the menu. “It’ll be barbequed something,” Sorrells said.
“We’re trying to bridge that gap between anybody that has limited knowledge of hunting and what hunters do and the compassion of feeding people that are in great need,” he said. “And we’re meeting that need.
“So help us meet that need.”
For more information on Hunters for the Hungry, visit www.schuntersforthehungry.com.
Where the hungry can pick up venison in the Upstate:
- Daily Bread Ministries, Greer
- Foothills Family Resources
- Frazee Center
- Greer Relief
- Miracle Hill Ministries
- Overcomers Center
- Piedmont Emergency Relief Center
- Poe Mill Achievement Center
- Project Host
- The Church Without Walls
- Triune Mercy Center
- Turning Point