By Jenifer Dixon
Every year, members of the grassroots hunting organization Back Yard Bow Pro (BYBP) donate thousands of pounds of venison to local charity groups to help alleviate hunger in two North Carolina counties. It’s a popular program that organizers hope will spread across the nation to help hungry families.
This local non-profit group, founded in Weaverville, N.C., has come up with a formula that helps everybody. They help the hungry by donating fresh meat to charities. They help landowners by reducing the excess population of deer that destroy much of the locally grown organic produce. They help hunters by giving them not only a larger purpose to the hunt but by integrating their function into the community.
The concept was literally born in the back yard as Joe Lasher and Adam Ellwood of BYBP and Billy Stewart of Farmers and Hunters Feeding the Hungry discussed ways to help the community in their backyard.
“It takes a community to combat hunger through hunting,” said Lasher, the founder of BYBP.
Lasher talks of hunting and fishing as a heritage of the people of his area. And given that one out of four children and one out of four seniors are “food insecure,” meaning they don’t know where their next meal is coming from, the need is great. But simultaneously, the program helps people to understand the role of the hunter.
“The greatest goal is that we want to help our friends, our family and those less fortunate, because that is what the hunting heritage is all about,” says Lasher.
“Hunt to help” might be the motto of this organization, which has provided some 200K meals to the needy since 2000 and has grown in two-and-a-half years to more than 24 states. One of the intended consequences of this community outreach has been to create bonds in the community and have different elements of the community—hunters, landowners and hungry families—working together. It helps to recreate what was once a staple of American life: community self-sufficiency. It also stresses the importance of changing the negative concept that many have today of the hunter, not realizing that it has been hunters, fishermen and farmers who have traditionally kept communities alive.
Marcella Morgan of Big Ivy Community Center in Barnardsville, N.C. speaks glowingly of the program and how the venison is included in packages provided by the Christmas Angel Project and winds up in everything from spaghetti sauce to hamburger helper.
But that’s not all. The venison provided by BYBP has moved into the gourmet world as well. Chef Derek St. Germain, the regional director of BYBP, coordinates with local organic farms and cooks gourmet meals with what once was derisively called “freezer fodder.” The first attendees were hunters, but over the years non-hunting members of the community have been attending these community meals sponsored by BYBP.
Hunters in the program are certified. They submit to a criminal background check and agree to a code of ethics. They also agree to hand over a certain proportion of their hunt to charitable organizations.
It’s a win-win situation for all involved. Participants celebrate their heritage and enjoy the bounty of nature that surrounds us. And many more sit down to a nourishing, satisfying meal.
Jenifer Dixon is the author of The Holy Land Unveiled, has a B.A. cum laude in English literature and history from George Washington University and has worked for a number of media outlets and at several D.C. think tanks including the Institute for Public Accuracy and Women Strike for Peace.