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Anne Arundel sees deer as a resource to meet coronavirus demand for food aid

Anne Arundel County officials want to add a spring deer hunting season so hunters can donate venison to food banks, County Executive Steuart Pittman said Tuesday during a town hall on food insecurity in the county.
Anne Arundel County officials want to add a spring deer hunting season so hunters can donate venison to food banks, County Executive Steuart Pittman said Tuesday during a town hall on food insecurity in the county.(Capital Gazette Staff / Capital Gazette)

Anne Arundel County officials want to add a spring deer hunting season so hunters can donate venison to food banks, County Executive Steuart Pittman said Tuesday during a town hall on food insecurity.

It would mimic a program the county runs during the winter season that gives hunters a $50 tax break for each deer they donate.

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It’s not a done deal — the county must get approval from the Maryland Department of Natural Resources first — but if it’s approved, Pittman said it could cut down on a deer population that is three to five times what is healthy for the ecosystem and provide another food source for families sudden in danger of going hungry because of the economic fallout of the coronavirus pandemic.

“We can afford to reduce the size of the deer herd and it would be good for the farmers, it would be good for our forests and our trees and it would be good for the food bank to have that protein to distribute,” Pittman said.

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He is also considering using his family farm in Davidsonville for food production, a decision he said would involve his six siblings.

Pittman’s announcements came Tuesday night in a re-branded online town hall called “build back better.” It featured community leaders working to eliminate hunger in the county as the global coronavirus pandemic has swept across the community sickening more than 2,000, killing nearly 100, and leaving more than 30,000 suddenly unemployed.

“It seems a little premature (to) talk about building back better but everything we do during this crisis is setting us up for the future and for how we can strengthen the safety net,” Pittman said. "We have to be prepared and we have to make sure there’s enough food and the right food going to these distribution sites.”

Monica Alvarado, owner of Bread and Butter Kitchen in Annapolis and founder of the nonprofit Feed Anne Arundel, said it’s clear food insecurity issue is going that grow.

When she first envisioned Feed Anne Arundel, which pays restaurants restricted by social distancing to make food for hunger relief, she thought the effort would be needed for a few months to carry residents through the pandemic. Now, she’s planning for what things might look like a year from now.

“I don’t see Feed Anne Arundel as a temporary thing,” Alvarado said. “I think we’re in it for the long haul.”

When people don’t have their basic needs met, it’s hard for them to focus on getting a job or looking for other opportunities, she said. “You’re too focused on survival.”

At the Kingdom Celebration Center in Odenton, Bishop Antonio Palmer has seen a major increase in need at his church food bank. Where the pantry-to-go typically serves 500 people per month, it is now serving between 1,500 and 2,000 people per week. Approximately half of the people his church is feeding are Hispanic.

“Whether they were driving an old 1980 Chevrolet or whether they were in a 2020 Lexus, this pandemic is crossing all kinds of barriers,” Palmer said. He has prayed with restaurant owners and first responders who have come in for help, he said.

Susan Thomas, executive director of the Anne Arundel County Food Bank, said she’s also seen the need from the community explode over the past two months. Where the food bank would typically distribute 85,000 pounds of food per month, it has given out 360,000 pounds over the last 7½ weeks, she said.

“The need just keeps growing,” she said.

People suddenly without work still need help while they are applying for unemployment or food stamps, Thomas said. Some people who still have jobs have seen their hours cut, and they need help, too.

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“You have a large population that is having to come to a pantry that has never had to go to a pantry for help before,” Thomas said.

The food bank is buying from distributors and taking donations, but is not currently buying from the stores, Thomas said. “Because if people are still able to purchase food, we want to make sure that’s still available for them,” she said.

Some are getting creative for collecting food for distribution.

Brian Riddle, owner of Homestead Gardens, recently received a 53-foot trailer load of frozen chicken after he learned one of his friends in the garden center industry had connections to the Perdue family, which operates the national chicken producer based on the Eastern Shore.

They pre-sold 30,000 pounds of chicken within 24 hours, Riddle said.

“Not to be an alarmist, but I do feel that this is a problem that is going to persist in the food supply for quite some time, especially in proteins,” Riddle said. “There are shortages and they are real.”

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