Farmers, hunters feed the hungry

December 22, 1998

Farmers and Hunters Feeding the HungryBY ANDREA BROWN-HURLEY / Staff Writer

photo: RICHARD T. MEAGHER / staff photographer

To many Maryland motorists and farmers, the state's burgeoning deer population presents problems. But to Rick Wilson, 52, of Hagerstown, the state's estimated 250,000 deer represent hope for the hungry.

"The deer are a problem or a blessing, depending upon which side of the fence you're looking from," said Wilson, director of Farmers and Hunters Feeding the Hungry. "God is sending us all this venison, like free little cows. We call them manna from heaven."

In late September 1991, Wilson said he got a glimpse of Heaven along southbound U.S. 522.

On his way to a friend's farm, Wilson stopped to offer help to a bedraggled woman he thought was having car problems.


Her car wasn't the problem.

Wilson said he hesitantly followed the woman into the roadside brush, where she asked him to help her load the dead buck lying among the weeds into the trunk of her car.

After Wilson told the woman of the deed's illegality, she told him there wasn't time to notify the proper officials - she and her two children were hungry.

He didn't waste any more time with talk.

"I knew I'd just looked into the eyes of Jesus," said Wilson, a Christian, retired Washington County art teacher and lifelong hunter.

After years of volunteering with a similar program in Virginia, Wilson left his profession to focus on the Maryland program full time. Though a constantly ringing phone keeps him away from the woods and chained to his desk for up to 12 hours daily, Wilson said he doesn't mind the inconvenience.

He is quick to quote Jesus' words in Matthew 25: "For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink...I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me."

With Wilson at the helm, the effort has mushroomed from a 1997 Washington County pilot program providing two tons of meat to the hungry to a statewide organization furnishing, so far this year, some 20 tons of venison to the needy.

While Wilson said the venison keeps pouring in from hunters, he is exercising all of his resources to solicit funds for meat processing. Though area processors such as Ernst Market in Clear Spring, Holsinger's Meat Market in Maugansville and Woodlawn Farms in Sharpsburg have discounted their services for the program, Wilson said the $35 fee is the effort's greatest obstacle.

It will cost $175,000 to cut, wrap and freeze the 5,000 deer, or one million meals, Wilson said his group hopes to donate to food banks annually. So far this year, he has raised some $25,000.

Though Wilson said he expects to wind up "in the red" at the end of the year, he will continue to strive to find the funds to keep the high-protein, low fat and cost-effective meat on the tables of the state's hungry.

At 17.5 cents a serving, a meal of venison is cheaper - and more nutritious - than dinner at McDonald's, Wilson said.

And some of the people who have benefited from Wilson's work have called him to express their gratitude. Those heartfelt "thank-yous" make his task all the more meaningful, he said.

"It takes me right back to that lady on the side of the road," Wilson said. "We don't have to do it from roadkill."

Farmers and hunters are feeding the hungry

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