PITTSFIELD, Ill. -- Many families living in poverty lack a steady supply of meat in their diets.
The Access Illinois Outdoors program, operated through Two Rivers Resource Conservation and Development Area, again will be aiming to supplement the meat supplies of local food pantries during the deer-hunting season with its Access Food project, which covers processing costs for hunters donating deer.
Protein is an important staple of a healthy diet, particularly for children. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that children younger than 5 years old are most susceptible to protein deficiency, which can cause fatigue, increased infections and muscle weakness. If untreated, it can leave permanent damage.
Last year more than 20,000 pounds of deer meat was donated to food pantries throughout the five-county region covered by Two Rivers -- Adams, Brown, Calhoun, Pike and Schuyler.
"It makes a huge difference in people's lives," said Brenda Middendorf, Access Illinois Outdoors coordinator. "A lot of our demographic is what is called the ‘working poor.' When their budget is tight, meat is the first to be eliminated because it's so expensive."
The Access Food project once received funding from the Illinois Department of Agriculture's Sportsmen Against Hunger program, but it stopped receiving money before the 2016 deer season. Access Food has supplemented funding for the program with grants from charitable organizations such as the Community Foundation Serving West Central Illinois & Northeast Missouri and the Dot Charitable Foundation.
"Our goal is not to turn away any deer for lack of funding," Middendorf said.
The program will run through Jan. 15, unless funds are depleted earlier. Although some expected funds have not been committed, Middendorf said the program does not have enough money to make it through the full deer season. Local donations will be required to keep the program running through the new year.
"I can't tell you how much the pantries appreciate this," Middendorf said. "For some pantries, this is the only meat source they have, so they get very anxious for deer season."
Participating lockers include Bob's Red Fox in Pleasant Hill, Golden Locker in Golden and Houser Meats in Rushville. Hunters may take deer to any of the three lockers.
For more information or to make a donation, call the Access Illinois Outdoors office at 217-285-2464.