Venison pilot project cancelled while regulations put in place

Sari Green/Courier Donna Linton, Coordinator of the Volunteer Centre of Charlotte County Inc. is disappointed that the proposed venison program is not going to happen this year after all. For the time being, food bank clients will have to settle for ground beef, wieners, and canned meats until the venison program gets up and running next year.

St. Stephen – Local food bank clients won’t be receiving deer meat this winter via a pilot program as expected. The program was supposed to begin this month, but has been cancelled, with the expectation it will happen next year once regulations are in place. Donna Linton, Coordinator of the Volunteer Center of Charlotte County Inc. said she had called about the program in mid-December to find out how it would be rolled out, and to see if they needed the names of the families who were to receive the meat. She was told then it was cancelled.

“The reason might have been health of food for human consumption,” said Linton. “I assume it had something to do with the Department of Health, and now I do believe it might have, particularly about eliminating risk factors. I guess the only thing that might come to mind is who is checking the temperature of the meat that is going out to the public. If you take it to the butcher, I’m not sure what he does. I don’t know the actual process. I’m guessing that it has to be rigorous.”

Linton said she understands there has to be a very strict process for processing and delivering the meat, but she is still disappointed her clients will not be receiving the much-needed venison. She is looking forward to the program beginning next year, and said if it is a food inspector that is needed, she has volunteers who would be able to perform that function legally.

“We’re looking forward to moving forward on it next year,” said Linton. “We’re serious about this. There’s a lot of deer. Not everybody’s got a cull going on in their neck of the woods, but we do here in Charlotte County. Someday it might not be necessary to have a cull. Then, we would like to see hunters being able to donate their meat to the butchers, who in turn would give it to an agency such as us to see that it gets to the families that need it the most.”

Saint Andrews Deputy Mayor Brad Henderson, who has played a huge role in getting the venison program off the ground, said he shares Linton’s disappointment the program didn’t happen this year. He said there are a lot of families for which that meat can make a real difference for during a hard winter, especially with more and more families turning to food banks in order to survive.

“When you have a solution that you think is going to make a difference and it doesn’t happen, it hurts,” said Henderson. “I’ve been talking to Minister Mike Holland, and he’s been very supportive. At no time has he ever said that he didn’t want to see this happen. It’s kind of like a pilot project here and then rolling out across New Brunswick. He’s doing everything within his power to make sure it happens. It will happen next year. We can make a difference.”

The venison wasn’t going to be given to the various food banks, but delivered to various clients who needed it. Linton said she had a list of clients who could have used the meat, but for now they will have to make do with what they are able to get from the food banks and grocery stores. She stressed that she was not running the program, nor would any of the meat be stored at local food banks. She said she is a distributor in a sense, compiling a list of names to give to those who were running the program.

“The venison was never going to stop at the food bank,” said Linton. “It would go directly from the butcher to the families, along with valid meat permits. I would let the butcher know who the families were.”

Linton mentioned it is not necessarily always food bank clients who need this meat. She said there are several families in Charlotte County who don’t use the food bank, but who do have many mouths to feed and can’t always afford to have meat on the table. Currently, she has a list of families who are not regular food bank clients but who were on the list to receive venison. In fact, many regular food bank families would not be eligible to receive the meat, for several reasons.

“We had 30 families who had experience with eating the product, have a kitchen appropriate for storing the product, and they had the proper utensils for cooking the product. This would have been huge for them. A lot of our food bank families, we’re learning, don’t have working stoves, or only have refrigerators with freezers that their landlords provide them with, which are not adequate enough to store 20 pounds of meat.”

Linton said at the moment, the food bank is holding its own, but for now, the only meat they will be able to give out is ground beef, hot dogs, and canned meats. She said the new clients’ choice program, where clients get to choose their own food items, seems to be going very well. They haven’t added up all of the numbers yet, but she said it looks like they are giving out less food each month by letting clients make their own choices. She said clients are making fewer trips to the food bank, and taking less food when they do visit.

The Saint Croix Courier reached out to Bruce MacFarlane, director of communications for the Corporate Communications of the Regional Development Corporation, but did not receive a reply prior to press time.