In a small Kentucky community, a simple lunch meeting among like-minded individuals led to arguably one of the biggest initiatives in the community to provide for those in need.  At the helm, was Independence Bank, a regional Kentucky bank grounded in improving the quality of life in the communities it serves and meeting the basic needs of those around them.

After a few handshakes over good, old-fashioned country cooking at a local dive, Independence Bank found a partner in McLean County Farm Bureau to launch a local chapter of the state-wide Kentucky Hunters for the Hungry (KHFH) program. That was 2015. Fast forward to 2020, that same initiative is entering its fifth year, helping to supply an adequate source of protein for over 400 families every month in a county whose population is less than 10,000.

“I think people would be surprised to learn that 10-12 percent of our residents in McLean County receive some type of provision from our local food pantry, God’s House of Hope,” said Chad Hall, Independence Bank President. “And because of that, sometimes something as basic as food insecurity and hunger is overlooked in community efforts from individuals and businesses.”

This premise is what led to the creation of the KHFH, a volunteer-run organization, in the first place. The group accepts monetary donations that are used to pay for the processing of deer to venison, which is then distributed to food pantries and soup kitchens throughout the Commonwealth. While KHFH is a state-wide operation, Independence Bank has been able to maximize its dollars, and more specifically target the communities in which its customers exist, by creating a local chapter that exclusively uses a local processor, who in turn supplies the needed venison to a local food pantry.

“No one else in the state does what Independence Bank and its employees have succeeded in doing for the needy families in McLean County,” said Bill Repasky, Attorney with Frost Brown Todd, LLC in Louisville. “The Bank could have easily simply written a check to make a charitable donation, as many thankfully do. But what makes Independence Bank’s impact so much greater is its leadership in overseeing the entire process and its focus on serving the communities where its customers live and work.”

Bill joined the KHFH’s Board of Directors after he was struck by the synergy of how an excess of one thing met the need of a scarcity of another. Part of the organization’s mission is not just to feed the hungry, but to promote environmental stewardship through wildlife management. Through Bill’s work with the Bank in a professional capacity, Independence Bank employees were familiar with his involvement in the KHFH organization and sought his advice and support during the early stages of the development of the Bank’s program locally.

With both the overpopulation of deer and a need for protein in their community, the connection was made for Independence Bank President, Chad Hall and the team in McLean County that led them to bring the state-wide model local.

“We work closely with farmers here in our community and many of them are impacted by the crop damage and deprivation that results because of too many deer in one area. And while hunting is a favored hobby for many residents of the county, most folks are not going to create waste, or take a second or third deer during the hunting season, if the meat cannot be used. The Bank’s program gives them a conduit to move deer from being a nuisance to substance. Deer that were destroying crops or endangering motorist are now alleviating hunger right here at home. Our customers and friends see the benefit of controlling the population because it’s being turned into meals for community members in need. It really is a perfect fit.” said Hall.

Kentucky Farm Bureau is involved at the state level, as well as locally. They have a shared concern for the crop loss, and also for reported automobile damage due to the quantity of deer. They have provided tremendous support by donating funds and helping to promote the program. Jonathan Ayer and Greg Miller, members of the Farm Bureau Board of Directors, and local farmers, were among those at the ground level of launching the program, which collected momentum quickly after launch in 2015.

In 2021, KHFH pledged $6,500 to help pay for the processing of the deer through local processor, McLean County Locker in Calhoun. And the McLean County chapter provided 125-130 deer for the 2020 season.

“We have been overwhelmed with support for this program and it has been incredible to watch it grow. The first year, we provided just over ten deer to our local food pantry, God’s House of Hope. This year, our local hunters alone provided 56,” said Hall.

In 2016, with the help of McLean County partner, Farm Bureau, they were able to donate freezers to God’s House of Hope to help store perishable food items that they so desperately need. Over the past five years they have been able to donate three total freezers.

“We feed approximately 435 families a month,” said William Carter, President of God’s House of Hope. “Hunters for the Hungry has always been a blessing for us. Their contribution is so important because protein is not donated as often as we would like, so what we get each year helps tremendously.”