The white-tailed deer hunting season for Pedernales Electric Cooperative’s Charles Herbst has always been an annual highlight near his home in the Texas Hill Country. But during the COVID-19 pandemic, that lifelong passion has taken on a new purpose.
Herbst is leading a group of co-workers, also avid hunters, on a mission to feed local families struggling financially because of the pandemic. As the hunting season draws to a close, the group has donated more than 400 pounds of ground venison—enough to feed about 50 families—to a church-based food bank near Junction County, Texas.
“I know our local food bank was overwhelmed when the pandemic started and they were hurting for anything,” said Herbst, a regional operations supervisor who has worked for 26 years at the co-op, based in Johnson City, Texas. “It’s humbling to know you can help someone with a hobby you enjoy.”
Using equipment left over from a former commercial meat processing plant owned by Herbst’s family, volunteers and their families bring their deer harvests and enthusiasm and then get down to the business of processing and packaging the meat.
It takes about an hour to process and package one white-tailed deer; one animal yields about 30 to 40 pounds of venison.
“I pitched the idea to the linemen, and they said, ‘Let’s do it. Whatever you need, we’ll help you,’” said Herbst, who had been accepting deer meat from former customers and donating the venison to local families on an informal basis.
But Herbst wanted to do more. He and his wife, Randi, teamed up with Trinity Episcopal Church, where they’re on the board, to distribute the food through a program called Meat the Need. So far, their efforts have helped feed more than eight local families, according to the Rev. Sam Hunnicutt.
“Charles is always at the ready to help others and his church,” said Hunnicutt, who ran a similar food drive in another parish. “The work he and his crew are doing to provide processed venison, especially in the predicament we’re in now, will be a blessing for the community.”
And with the pandemic continuing to upend people’s lives for the foreseeable future, Herbst said he will need his co-workers’ steadfast support to reach his goal of 1,000 pounds of venison, the equivalent of 150 deer.
“I’m fortunate to have the ability and facilities to do this and, of course, all the guys here grew up hunting, so this really was a perfect fit for our Junction crew.”
Victoria A. Rocha is a staff writer at NRECA.