The first million took a decade. The second, a bit longer. The third, well, that’s a few years out.
The millions are servings of protein from donated venison processed at Pearce’s Custom Processing on Perdues Road in Louisburg. Jeff Pearce has kept count, 4-ounce portion by 4-ounce portion, since he signed up in the 1995-96 hunting season to become a processor of deer donated to N.C. Hunters for the Hungry.
“I was doing so good they put me on the board the first year,” Pearce, 67, said, laughing.
Ever since, he has served the nonprofit organization, which began its work a season earlier.
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The organization serves as the link between hunters and nonprofit food pantries that can use ground venison to provide protein in meals for people in need. Various churches distribute the meat, as do the Inter-Faith Food Shuttle and the Food Bank of Central & Eastern North Carolina.
Pearce said he gets to combine two things he loves: hunting deer and helping people. He said the hunting is needed to keep the deer population in check, but wasting the meat would truly be a sin.
“He’s very dedicated to what he does, and he does it not to make a profit. He’s much more of a Samaritan helping out,” said Dick Hamilton, N.C. Hunters for the Hungry president, who worked for the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission for 37 years.
Pearce said he stood at about 2 million meals as the 3 1/2-month season started. He is hopeful the number passes 2.1 million by the season’s Jan. 1 end. He was at 2,056,364 a few weeks ago, he said.
“The hunting has been very good,” he said. “The weather has been more favorable this year. And it’s going to get cooler. That’s better hunting conditions.”
There were 762 deer donated statewide last season (2016-17).
Last year, more than 250,000 of the state’s more than 650,000 licensed hunters pursued deer, with 222,260 taken from a herd of about 1 million. Deer average around 30 to 40 pounds of ground meat, or 120 to 160 quarter-pound servings.
This year, 15 processors and 10 drop-off stations are active. Pearce showed a map of N.C. counties, with large empty areas between locations. He hopes to persuade more processors, especially in western North Carolina, to join by gaining U.S. and N.C. Departments of Agriculture certifications for cleanliness, safety and record-keeping.
He emphasized that hunters who donate deer “are not required to pay one penny.” Processing costs, discounted to $50 per deer, are covered by donations and the occasional grant.
“A lot of private individuals donate money,” he said.
To donate toward costs or download a map, go to www.nchuntersforthehungry.org.
Last-minute gifts: To raise funds for the nonprofit Serve the Need in Johnston County, Garner artist Duane Raver has donated additional signed prints of wildlife, including wild turkeys, bobwhite quail, wood ducks, mallards, cardinals and dolphins. To obtain a print, contact Tom Ricks at Tom.Ricks1939@gmail.com or 919-333-8399 for suggested donation amounts and pickup location.
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