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By DAVID CAMPHOUSE
According to Access Illinois Outdoors Executive Director Brenda Middendorf and Hilltop Custom Meat owner Todd Smith, this year’s Access Food program is on pace yet again to process and distribute a record amount of venison to hungry Pike County families.
Access Food, which started in 2006, is a program of Two Rivers Resource Conservation and Development and Access Illinois Outdoors that pays for the processing of deer donated by hunters and distributes the meat to food pantries throughout the county. The deer are processed at Hilltop Custom Meats/Smith Taxidermy.
“We’re seeing so many deer donated, we need additional funding to keep up,” Middendorf said.
Local hunters and out-of-state hunters alike donate deer to Access Food.
“It’s about 50-50,” Middendorf said. “We see hunters from locations all around the country donating to the program.”
Middendorf emphasized the importance of the Access Food program to Pike County residents served by area food banks. According to Middendorf, many Pike County families routinely lack adequate access to nutritious food, and demand on food pantries has increased sharply during the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition, Middendorf said that protein sources were especially important for families in need, emphasizing the role of protein in the growth and development of healthy children..
“There’s just not enough money there to cover meat in the grocery budget, and that’s often the first thing to go because it is the most expensive,” Middendorf said.
To pay for deer processing, Access Food relies on individual donations and grants.
Individuals or organizations interested in donating to the program are directed to contact Access Illinois Outdoors at 1301 East Washington in Pittsfield or call 217-285-2464.
Deer donations for Pike County food pantries will be accepted at Hilltop Custom Meats, 1311 W Washington Street. Hunters should contact Hilltop at 217-285-4720 for details and hours.