Food bank volunteers butcher donations of meat

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Mark Schmidt processes meat Friday morning at North Valley Food Bank while other volunteers work doing the same. The meat will be distributed to the food bank’s clients in the form of roasts and hamburger. (Heidi Desch/Whitefish Pilot)

A group of volunteers at North Valley Food Bank on a recent Friday morning worked quickly and efficiently to butcher donated meat that would later be distributed to those in need.

There might be six to a dozen volunteers working in the back of the food bank butchering meat depending on what’s been donated. On a recent day they were butchering two deer, but a few weeks ago they spent the day processing three deer, a moose and half of a cow in the same day.

“We get the meat donated by hunters,” Dennis Theissen explains. “Sometimes [Montana] Fish, Wildlife and Parks will drop off something they’ve confiscated or we get road kill occasionally.”

North Valley is the only food bank in the state to process its own meat and it’s a tradition volunteers have embraced for decades. Food bank founder the late June Munski-Feenan began the effort when she asked volunteers to butcher meat that had been donated to the food bank.

All of the meat is butchered and processed at the food bank’s facility on Flathead Avenue near The Wave. Now in its fifth year in the building, it has an enlarged meat processing center and dedicated space for meat storage.

“The wild game is an opportunity for meat that most of our clients don’t have,” Theissen said. “We make most of it into roast and hamburger and give it out every week. We enjoy knowing that it’s going directly to the clients.”

In 2013, the Montana Legislature passed a bill that allowed for the salvage of deer, elk, moose and antelope killed by motor vehicles. The permits are available to anyone.

Theissen said since then the amount of roadkill processed has dropped, but still many hunters donate to the food bank, which accepts freshly killed and dressed animals.

Mark Schmidt, who has been volunteer butchering for 17 years, recalls when bison were harvested and a group of volunteers processed the meat and once when 27 cows were hit by a train in East Glacier volunteers then too brought the meat back to Whitefish. Folks have donated cows and pigs to the food bank.

“It’s incredible what people are willing to donate,” he said.

Kristie Lukes, warehouse manager for the food bank, said on average the food bank serves about 150 families.

Lukes said right now the food bank could use donations of olive oil, healthy cereal, fresh produce, bananas and specifically over the holidays donations of apples and oranges.

For more information on North Valley Food Bank, call 862-5863 or visit www.northvalleyfoodbank.org.

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