As food pantries across the country work tirelessly to provide essential goods for those in need such as fruits, vegetables, grains and dairy — the Gunnison County Food Pantry stands alone by providing proteins not often found in the donation box — such as deer and elk.
Formed in 2010, the Gunnison-based non-profit, Ranchers and Sportsmen Together for the Hungry (RSTH) was inspired to reduce the glut of elk and deer that resided in the valley as means to help feed the hungry.
“This program has really benefited the community over the past 10 years,” said Gunnison County Food Pantry Executive Director Katie Dix.
Last Friday, RSTH donated more than 1,000 pounds of ground beef — a total of 574 two-pound packages — to the Gunnison County Food Pantry, courtesy of Safeway in Gunnison.
“This meat has come in at an opportune moment,” said Dix who noted the pantry served more than 43,000 meals since the COVID-19-related state of emergency was declared mid-March.
While it’s not wild game, the donation of ground beef was the next best thing given it’s not hunting season. The additional protein is an ideal donation for not only living through the pandemic, but the recovery, said Dix.
The organization was born out of need more than a decade ago, as the Colorado Division of Wildlife was working to bring elk herds down. One way to get the job done was to allow hunters more than one permit — so a single family could kill two elk, for example.
That gave Gunnison resident Allen Moores an idea.
“I saw the need — the average family can only eat one elk a year,” explained Moores.
Moores, along with other local lifelong hunters soon recognized the opportunity to provide elk or deer meat that may have not been previously utilized. Soon, Moores formed a board of directors including Les White, Jerry Burgess, Marlene Crosby, Katherine Haase and Allen Roper.
“An average elk provides meat for several hundred families,” said Dix.
The initiative to provide local meat with those in need quickly gained ground, with the City of Gunnison, Town of Crested Butte, and other local stakeholders throwing their support behind the mission to share wild game.
To ensure all proteins are safe to consume, game is packaged at F-Bar Catering and Processing before being brought to the pantry.
Amid the current health crisis the spirit of the organization is still strong, although the group is evolving from what it once was, said Moores.
Most recently, Bob Wojtko and Rita Bohn provided a donation to continue the spirit of services of the non-profit through the Bob and Rita Restricted Fund for Game Processing to benefit those in need.
More than anything, it’s the community-based support that ultimately led the group’s success, added Moores, who hopes to see services continue to feed the Gunnison Valley.
“You get an idea — and if they’re good — they don’t die,” said Dix.
(Editor’s note: the Community Foundation of the Gunnison Valley manages funding for Ranchers and Sportsmen Together for the Hungry.)
(Kate Gienapp can be contacted at 970.641.1414 or email@example.com.)