WALLA WALLA -- On Sunday they cooked up five pounds of Crystal Deschaine's buck for a spaghetti dinner at the Christian Aid Center.
It wasn't the first time venison was served at the center, but it was probably the first time they had a hunter donate all of a kill to the center, which came to about 40 pounds of ground meat.
"We usually just use the meat," Deschaine said, explaining that her family is made up of avid hunters who eat a lot of venison.
"This year my mom and my dad and my brother, they got their tags and they all got their deer. So I asked. And they figured we had enough meat for this year. So I asked. And they said OK. And we figured it was a good cause anyway," she said.
The good cause of giving away deer meat was made easier by a newly formed group, Farmers and Hunters Feeding the Hungry, a national organization that encourages hunters and farmers to donate their meat to food banks or shelters.
The local chapter for the national program was started last spring. But before donations could start coming in, several requirements had to be worked out, like making arrangements with a USDA meat processor because the meat was for public consumption, said program coordinator Matt Stephens.
"If we were to get several deer in, what we could do is that we could grind some, and we could cut some into steak and stew meat," Stephens said, hoping other hunters will follow Deschaine's example, especially those who love to hunt but don't love venison.
"People that love to hunt but they don't like the venison, they usually give it away to friend," Stephens said. And he noted that sometimes the meat goes uneaten in a freezer, instead of ending up on a table where it could feed 50 or more homeless people.
On Sunday afternoon at 4:15 p.m., the smell of ground meat permeated the Christian Aid Center kitchen, as a small crew from Trinity Baptist Church's youth group was busy cooking up a spaghetti dinner.
The canned and dry goods the volunteers were using were relatively inexpensive, weekend kitchen manager Lee Nelson said.
Pastas and canned sauces are staples of food banks and are just not that expensive, unlike meat, he noted.
"We do get donations of meat. But they are very few and far between," Nelson said.
The remaining 35 pounds of Deschaine's buck will be used for chili, meatloaf and more spaghetti over the next few weeks. And will most likely be cut with 50 percent beef, as it was on Sunday. But if more hunters answer the call of the donated wild, the menu at the center might expand.
"If we get some steaks, we could cut them up and dice them and make some stews," Nelson said.
Deer and elk are the only game animals accepted for the program, and all game meat must be de-boned, Stephens said.
Farmers can donate whole steers and pigs, and they have the option of donating halves, quarters or smaller portions, he added.
USDA-approved processing will be arranged through Haun's Meat & Sausage. Money is also accepted and will be used to help pay for meat processing fees. And other USDA meat processors can donate their services.
"If there are others out there that would do it, we would go through any of them. They just have to be certified processors," Stephens said.
Alfred Diaz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 526-8325.etheireokaysbe used aor To learn more about donating to Farmers and Hunters Feeding the Hungry, call (509) 386-2611.