Hunters in Iowa have a long history of turning the animals they harvest into food donations for the needy. The programs usually include deer, but a different kind of hunt annually provides for those in need.
Every year since 2003 on the day before Thanksgiving the Iowa Chapter of Safari Club International serves a meal at The Bethel Mission, the Central Iowa Shelter and Freedom for Youth Ministries in Des Moines. The meal is made up from a gift from club members of some 800 pounds of buffalo meat.
Club president Nels Spevak says contrary to many opinions, there are abundant numbers of buffalo. Spevak says there’s an estimated 500-thousand head of buffalo in the United States. He says the area where they go in South Dakota is some 200,000 square miles.
Before the meat is donated however, it needs to be processed, that’s where Randy Ruth comes in. Ruth owns the Frederika Locker in Northeast Iowa. He says after eight years of practice, he and his staff have the routine down to a science .
He says they can usually skin a buffalo, power wash it and get it ready to hang in the cooler in 45 minutes. Ruth says it hangs in the cooler a couple of days and then it can take up to four hours to butcher and package the animal. And once the packaged buffalo arrives in Des Moines it’s up to the cooks at the various shelters to prepare it.
Bethel Mission chef, Lou Dawson, says the buffalo meat is 99% fat free, so it is healthier than hamburger. He says you can prepare any menu item with buffalo meat that you would use hamburger for, so they make soups, chilis, enchiladas and tacos. The Safari Club’s Spevak says he’s impressed with the generosity of the those who bring in the animal, those who tan the hide and prepare the meat without charge.
He says the club members are looking for the trophy, but most can’t use the 2,200 pounds of meat, so it works out perfectly for everyone. Hope Ministries’ David Burrier says being able to secure meat to help feed the hungry is often a difficult task because it can be expensive and often doesn’t have a long shelf life.
And with an increasing number of people seeking their help, donations like the great buffalo giveaway are more important than ever.