A bountiful blessing

A bountiful blessing
To people who love the wide open spaces of South Dakota, and all of the wildlife that calls it home, there's nothing as cowardly and despicable as hunters who become too greedy.

Hunters who lack the true qualities of sportsmen had taken several deer illegally in the Clay County area earlier in the fall. Volunteers from the First Baptist Church in Vermillion, however, have helped turn a negative into a positive.

They recently converged at the premises of the Revs. Shelly and Sandy Aakre, taking over their garage and kitchen.

Poached deer carcasses, which had been kept frozen by local law enforcement, were no longer needed after the hunters who illegally bagged them were prosecuted.

"They were no longer needed for evidence," Sandy said. "The game warden found out through the church in Trent that if he had any extra deer, he could give it to us and we would process it here for people who needed it."

Tom Dooley, the moderator of First Baptist Church, emptied his van and hauled as many deer carcasses as he could to the Aakres.

"We've got all kinds of people who help get the deer here, and others who helped skin and cut up the carcasses," Sandy said.

Not all of the venison prepared by the First Baptist Church volunteers was taken illegally.

"None of the deer that we're processing," Shelly said, "have been hunted by us. In some cases, the game warden or somebody who was hunting didn't want all of their meat, and they know that we process it, so they've donated it to us."

Sandy cut up the carcasses in his garage, and the pieces of meat were then taken into the kitchen where volunteers Larissa Christman, Melanie Ottenbacher, Oceanah Tate, Marie Gray, Chrystal Robinson, Adrian Aakre and John Lee were waiting.

What once had been a wild game was transformed into venison steaks and roasts, patties and sausage.

"We make whatever they (the recipients of the meat) want," Shelly said.

Sandy uses a saw that he purchased in Elk Point to cut up the carcasses into steaks and roasts.

"We made hamburger, too," he said. "A lot of times we make patty sausage and pork sausage."

After processing, the meat is wrapped in paper, and placed in boxes, with the name of the venison's recipient written boldly on the container's side.

"We wrap it and package up in the size that everybody wants," Sandy said.

The recipients of the venison were then able to stock up their freezers with one of the healthiest sources of protein readily available in South Dakota.

Venison is lower in calories, cholesterol and fat than most cuts of beef, pork, or lamb. According to the USDA Nutrient Database (2007), cooked lean venison contains approximately 150 calories per 100 grams per a 3.5 ounce serving, and is a useful source of niacin, potassium, phosphorus, iron, selenium and zinc.

Last year, the First Baptist Church volunteers processed approximately 1,600 pounds of venison. This year, they surpassed that volume.

"Last year, we helped between 16 and 20 families," Shelly said. "This year, it's going to be more like 35."

The Aakres both view the venison project as a perfect outreach project for the First Baptist Church. The recipients of this unique South Dakota bounty include individuals suffering from cancer and Multiple Sclerosis, and a widowed woman living on a fixed income.

"We process the venison for people who are having a hard time making ends meet," Shelly said. "If everybody did this in the world, in some small way, we wouldn't have anyone who was hungry."

"And some of these older folks are trying to live at home," Sandy said. "They have a limited income and yet they're trying to stay independent. That means paying taxes and upkeep and everything on their homes, and still taking care of themselves and eating right. It's not easy.

"Some of them are making choices between medicine and heat. And sometimes they're eating tea and toast. So if we can provide a piece of meat with that meal, that sure helps," he said.

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