Florida Roots: Uniting hunters to help feed the hungry


They say that all great ideas come from finding a solution to a problem.  The Wild Game Food Bank (WGFB) scores a direct bullseye in the “great ideas” department, no doubt.  Developed by Central Florida agriculture community member, Caitlin Meadows, the WGFB brings together wild game donated by area hunters, local game processors, and Central Florida community ministries and soup kitchens to help feed Polk County’s hungry families.

Started in September 2013 and growing like wildfire ever since, the Wild Game Food Bank came about in a way that seems to be a bit of fate revolving around a recurring theme: family.

“My husband is an avid hunter,” explains Caitlin, “and every season would mean a full freezer.”  Not comfortable with waste, they would make sure someone— family or friends— would take the extra and use it.  That started the habit of giving away extra game meat.  Eventually, Caitlin also saw potential when hunters would leave game rather than take the meat.  “Every season it seemed like we were having the same conversation,” says Caitlin, “about how it was such a waste.”  Caitlin tried to make a connection with national groups that accept game meat, but the logistics never fit. “Florida’s hunting grounds are abundant,” maintains Caitlin.  “There is a supply; we just needed a way to get it to those in need.”

Fate stepped in, once again in the form of family.  Her sister-in-law was volunteering at The Mission of Winter Haven and told Caitlin about the need in Polk County, where many families deal with food insecurity.  “It was a light bulb moment,” relates Caitlin.  “We had no idea there were so many in need.”

After that, things moved quickly.  The mission quickly responded with a resounding “yes” to Caitlin’s offer of game meat.  Another quick “yes” came from Chop-N-Block, a Winter Haven wild game and custom meat processor.

Since then, it’s been one success after another.  After its establishment in September 2013, the WGFB has received nearly a ton of wild game for 5,100 meals right here in Polk County.

The organization has also branched out by coordinating with a soup kitchen in Lakeland and another that utilizes smaller meat donations.  Not stopping there, WGFB has expanded to other counties, including Lake/Sumter counties, a DeSoto County drop-off station, and Hillsborough County by partnering with Al’s Wild Meat Processing and Manna on Wheels.  “It pulls at my heartstrings,” confesses Caitlin, the emotion obvious in her voice as she explains Manna on Wheels’ mission to feed children.

For the future, there’s expansion and fundraisers planned— like the Polk County Farm Bureau’s Sporting Clays Hunger Shootout in September and the BBQ Revue by Lake Wales Rotary in December— but there will undoubtedly be more unplanned love and support from the community.  It’s a sign of the greatest of ideas.

CREDITS

story by ERIKA ALDRICH
photo by MATT COBBLE