Hunters across the state turned their hunting passions into expressions of compassion Sept. 20 as thousands of pounds of frozen fish and game were donated during Hunters for the Hungry’s annual Clean Out Your Freezer Day.

Judy Campbell, board chairman of Hunters for the Hungry, is continuing an effort that she and her late husband Richard started in 1994 to give hunters an opportunity to share with those less fortunate around the state. “It's been gratifying because we live in the Sportsman's Paradise,” Campbell said. “The fishing and hunting is phenomenal, so, why not share the bounty?”

A group of Baton Rouge-area hunters gathered in 1994 to discuss how best to share the game and fish they harvested with the needy. The hunters partnered with the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, and donations were made to the dining hall. Soon, the overwhelming response led to the group making the meat donations to the Greater Baton Rouge Food Bank.

Hunters for the Hungry group grew and is partnering with all five major food banks in Louisiana. The group’s multiple initiatives like Clean Out Your Freezer Day and Freshly Harvested Game and Fish programs provides thousands of meals for Louisiana families year-round. “You know, one of our slogans is 'Hunters Who Care Share,’” Campbell said. “We share the bounty, because we have so much of it.”

Multiple donation sites for Clean Out Your Freezer Day were set up in each region of the state. Baton Rouge-area sites were in Gonzales, Denham Springs, Baton Rouge, Baker, Zachary, Clinton, Central and St. Francisville.

Campbell worked out of the St. Francisville site at Feliciana Seafood. She said that site held special meaning to her because owners Tip and Beth Pace were the first processing operation to offer their services to Hunters for the Hungry. “They were our first processors in 1994 and have always been very generous with their processing to for us,” she said. “Hunters can just drop off their deer. They can keep the backstrap or the tenderloin if they want and Tip and Beth process the rest of the deer or cut roast or they can use the meat to make sausage.”

Frozen meat donated is either taken to the food bank, or if it's a lot, it's sent to the Baton Rouge Food Bank to distribute to the 100 agencies in which they partner.

Beth Pace said the program has a great impact because most food bank donations are canned goods and non-perishable food items. “There are lots of canned goods, but this provides fresh, good protein,” she said.

West Feliciana Parish donations are processed at Feliciana Seafood and East Baton Rough Parish donations can be sent to Tramonte’s Meat & Seafood for processing.

Campbell explained that the processing operations play a big role in the group’s success. “They were literally our first people who helped us in 1994,” she said. “They started us on the journey, so, they are very important people to our organization.”

The 2019 Clean Out Your Freezer Day collected more than 30,000 pounds of meat resulting in more than 120,000 meals distributed to needy families. The local drive collected about 400 pounds of meat a day before Sunday’s official drive day. Campbell said the St. Francisville site collected about 1,000 pounds of meat. She said those donations will make 4,000 meals. “That's fantastic,” she said. “That's a lot of me.”

The special drives do not limit donations. “We always take donations,” Campbell said. “Anytime — whether it's the fresh deer, like I've talked about, or whether people just want to clean out their freezer during the year. They will take anything.”

Opportunities to volunteer and help the less fortunate is another positive aspect for Hunters for the Hungry. From its conception, the group has helped students give back and earn service hours for school. “This encourages the kids to say ‘you can help’” Campbell explained.

The recent hurricane and economic crises sparked by the pandemic have created more need and Campbell said these are all opportunities for hunters to step up and meet needs. Hunters can donate fresh game or they can clean out their freezers before the new hunting season starts. “We got chickens and turkeys and whatever,” she said. “The second program is when you caught during the year, when you've got enough meat in your freezer, but you're still killing deer, donate the deer to us.”

Hunters don’t have to pay processing and processers are in all corners of the state. “If you're hunting, you can actually go on our website and click where you are and it will show you where the nearest processor can be found,” she said.

For information or to find processing locations, visit www.h4hla.org.