UMM Group Launches “Venison” Ministry

Date Posted: 1/23/2014

St. Mark’s UMC in Marshall has helped create over 850 meals for the local community through a donate-a-deer program for area food banks. Local media attention is raising awareness for the need, and for the church.
When a guy named Rick Wilson encountered a woman attempting to take roadkill home to feed her family, the experience was a wake up call that led him to create a national organization called Farmers and Hunters Feeding the Hungry (FHFH). When hunter Dana Havron, a member of St. Mark’s UMC heard about this initiative, he launched a plan to start an FHFH chapter in Marshall, Tx.
Explains Dana, “I brought the idea to our men’s group at St. Marks UMC and everyone agreed to take up the project as a ministry in our area. After almost two years of work, we are now the sponsors of the only chapter in Texas: The Northeast Texas Chapter of FHFH.”
He is convinced this idea is a win –win –win concept. Adds Dana, “First and foremost, it provides nutritious meat for a need in our community that we often forget – Hunger!!  Second - it allows us an opportunity to minister to the needy and witness to hunters. Third - as prudent land managers, we need to harvest deer for the benefit of the herd. And lastly - it’s one more excuse to hunt!!”
FHFH partners with hunters that are willing to donate a harvested deer to FHFH. Representatives of FHFH locate meat processors that are willing to process the meat for a discounted rate. The venison is packaged into ground meat and donated to local food banks, soup kitchens or other sources of need, and FHFH covers the costs. “Ask any food bank what their top three needs are and they will say – meat, meat and meat,” explains Dana, “and one deer can provide 150 to 200 meals of lean protein.”
The local newspaper highlighted St. Mark’s and Dana for taking the lead and getting 17 deer donated so far this year to help fill East Texas food pantries. And there have been benefits closer to home.
Invigorating the Congregation
“The venison ministry is the latest of our feeding ministries but probably not the last,” adds Rev. Edward Blackstone. “I expect to have another new feeding ministry serving the community within the coming year, and I expect the venison ministry to grow since this was the first year of operation.” He believes this outward focus gives new energy to the church. “Our church is not just a fading presence in a dying neighborhood,” he notes. “We make a contribution to the community that would be missed if we were not here.  It gives us a sense of mission and purpose that creates a higher level of satisfaction with our church. I think God blesses churches that are doing Kingdom work.” Averaging 65 in attendance, St. Mark’s added nine new members last year in spite of being located on a deadend street in a declining neighborhood.
He continues, “Our facilities are about 50 years old, the neighborhood is changing and our membership is graying. Yet, despite the negatives, our membership and attendance has increased over the past three years.” He credits that vitality, in part, to establishing two hunger ministries and helping in another. “In September 2010, working with the Marshall Optimist Club and Marshall ISD, we established an independent non-profit that provides food packages in backpacks for participating elementary school children. Food is provided every Friday for children who have been identified by school nurses, counselors and teachers as exhibiting symptoms of hunger at school.” 
With St. Mark’s help, all seven of the Marshall ISD elementary schools receive 150 food packages every week at a cost of $4 per package. “We pay for and deliver the food to two of the elementary schools, and we’ve also enlisted students from Wiley College, to help deliver to the other schools.” St. Mark’s also provides a community meal quarterly through a local ministry of the Episcopal church, serving food for 80-110 people. 
Dana is ready for the next step in the new venison ministry. “My vision is to have United Methodists Men's groups and others pick up the ball and run with this worthy program...and ultimately spread it across the district, conference and the whole country. The connectionalism of UMM is the perfect venue to spread the ministry.”
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