When Bryan Riddle saw the 60-pound doe that had been struck by a car sprawled on the side of Route 175 last July, he had visions of ground venison in chili, sloppy joes, lasagna and breakfast sausage to feed Anne Arundel's needy.
Four months and nine deer later, the county police officer and others on his shift have gutted, skinned, chopped, sliced and ground nearly 400 pounds of venison for programs run by St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church in Severna Park and the Anne Arundel County Food Bank in Crownsville.
The meat they donated to the food bank in November alone is nearly half the 700 pounds of venison the food bank received through 1995.
"We're usually the first one called when a deer is struck, so we have the opportunity to make use of it," said Riddle, a seven-year police veteran. "When you see a deer laying there on the side of the road, it's just a rotten carcass, but if we deal with it first, it's a meal."
Riddle and Officer Tom Gillen processed the meat from that first deer, packaged it in bags and donated it to St. John's. They didn't get another deer until earlier this month, but since then they have been knee-deep in deer skins. Before Riddle began his project, animal control officers hauled off the carcasses of deer struck by automobiles and the meat went to waste. Now the meat is helping to feed hungry families.
Riddle got approval from his supervisors to collect the deer, a task that could take him anywhere in the county while on duty or off. Then he called Giant Food headquarters in Landover to ask for help, and the company donated a cutting table, slicer and electric grinder. He contacted several other merchants and some private citizens who all have offered to let Riddle store deer meat in their walk-in refrigerators and use their meat grinders.
But the butchering is left up to the police officers.
Last week, three deer went from road kill to 100 pounds of packaged protein in an hour and 40 minutes.
Fellow officers David Speca, Don Hepler, Jerry Clark, Jason Wells and Scott Ronaghan gathered at the Riddle home in Riva Tuesday morning for the second party he's had this month to grind the meat.
The morning started with fresh deer sausage and coffee for the early birds. When everyone else arrived about 11 a.m., the blue jeans and boot-clad group gathered around a tree in Riddle's back yard, hung the deer and got to work.
Riddle and Hepler skinned and quartered the deer and brought it inside the garage. There, in minutes, the deer went from hind quarters and shoulders to lean, ground meat.
Riddle gently wielded a butcher knife, cut tendons and sliced the meat off the bone. Speca used another knife to cut the flank into smaller pieces and fed the meat into the grinder.
Wells occasionally switched a full bowl of ground meat for an empty one and filled one-quart plastic bags. Ronaghan sealed the bags, wiped them clean and laid them in a cardboard box for delivery to the food bank.
When they were done, Riddle chilled the meat in a freezer that carried a limited inventory.
"Deer, deer, deer, deer, deer and Lean Cuisines," Riddle said, ticking off the contents of each shelf.
Bruce Michalec, executive director of the food bank, said it hasn't given away any of the deer meat, but he's grateful for the supply that will fill in after the holiday season, when donations drop off.
Riddle said he hopes that when families sit down to eat a meal of the meat he processed, they will see why he can't leave the deer to rot.
"It's kinda like leaving a wallet on the side of the road," Riddle said. "It's got value."
Pub Date: 12/01/96