PALMETTO — Missy Plum seems out of place as the organizer of a hunters alliance.
First of all, the 44-year-old Palmetto accountant doesn’t hunt.
But then she’s not a gatherer, either. She claims she would starve if grocery stores suddenly disappeared.
“I can’t kill an animal. ... I can’t even cut up a chicken,” she said.
Then she paused.
“Well, maybe if my kids were hungry.”
That’s how Plum and her husband, Gary, got the idea to start a local chapter of Farmers and Hunters Feeding the Hungry, a national outreach program that provides donated venison and other big-game meat to those in need through food banks and other charitable organizations.
After helping two family friends through tough times that included layoffs and foreclosures, the Plums brainstormed ways they could help meet the growing need in Manatee.
Gary and the couple’s son, 14-year-old Wyatt, are avid hunters. Missy likes to work behind the scenes, focusing on details and organizing projects.
So in October, the Plums became FHFH chapter coordinators.
“We’d never been in a situation where there was no work.” Missy said. “How do you feed your family? How do you feed your children? We saw this, and we thought, ‘You know, it’s in the news, but it’s not really real until it’s in your backyard and you’re looking in the face of it.’ ”
Said Gary, 55, a financial adviser at Morgan Stanley, “Our heart has always been when we see a need to help. It’s hard to help anyone with anything else when they have an empty stomach.”
FHFH was founded in 1997 in Maryland by the Rev. Rick Wilson after he encountered a mother along a Virginia highway trying to wrestle a road-killed deer into her trunk to feed her hungry children.
There are chapters in 28 states, including five others in Florida. The organization says one donated deer can feed 200 people.
Wilson said he hopes the group can reclaim the reputation of hunters, who have come under fire from animal activists and other liberal groups in recent years.
“This really gives hunters a chance to return to their heritage as food providers, where we once were,” Wilson says in a video on the organization’s Web site.
The Plums have teamed with longtime Palmetto Meat Shop owner Roger Talbot to process the venison donated by local hunters and have entered into an agreement with Meals on Wheels PLUS of Manatee, which runs the Food Bank of Manatee, to distribute the meat.
Missy Plum said she was impressed by the food bank’s two walk-in freezers, refrigerated trucks and distribution system during a tour. For its part, the food bank, which supplies almost 100 local organizations with food, is looking forward to the help.
“The more donations we can accept, the better,” said Kristen Theisen, the development director at Meals on Wheels PLUS.
Talbot has agreed to process each donated deer for $50, and FHFH will cover the cost. He has already completed his first job for the group: 38 pounds of venison donated by Wyatt Plum after a hunt in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Wyatt has another donation on the way from Idaho, where he shot an elk during a hunting trip in October.
But the Plums can’t wait to start receiving donations from other Manatee hunters. Hunters can drop off field-dressed deer at Palmetto Meat Shop. There is no charge, though donations to cover processing would be welcome.
“The biggest thing on my list right now is to get the word out,” Missy Plum said. “Everything is set up; I just need the deer.”
The Plums and Talbot also are investigating a way to get donated wild hogs to the food bank, though that effort will not be affiliated with FHFH because the organization does not accept hogs or bears. The donation process for hogs is much more stringent because of the threat of trichinosis.
“Deer season’s limited. Hogs aren’t. Any farmer will tell you they are a nuisance,” Missy Plum said. “Me personally, I’m focused on any way I can get food to the food bank,” she said.
But for now, deer will do. The Plums hope Manatee hunters will use their talents to make a difference.
“I can sit in my house, and I’m very fortunate,” Missy Plum said. “I’m not cold at night. I have plenty of food to eat, plenty of food to feed my children. ... But there are a lot of people that aren’t.
“We all have something we can give.”