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Program Helps Feed the Needy

Specialized fish locators show better detail for ice fishing, including where the lures are in relationship to the fish. (Michael Pearce/Wichita Eagle/MCT)

Specialized fish locators show better detail for ice fishing, including where the lures are in relationship to the fish. (Michael Pearce/Wichita Eagle/MCT)

Kansas City, Mo. — They are an unlikely alliance: an elderly nun who has a passion for helping the needy and a group of energetic deer hunters.

But they came together on a cold winter day to tackle a shared cause.

Sister Berta Sailer stood at the door of Operation Breakthrough, a Kansas City nonprofit organization she co-founded, and gave thanks for a valuable gift — the venison that was being unloaded from trucks by the hunters.

“We shouldn’t have children who go hungry in Kansas City,” Sister Berta said. “But we do.

“We have moms and their children who live in cars, abandoned homes. Others have homes, but they’re struggling to put food on the table.

“These are good people. They’re not lazy. They’re just going through tough times.

“We try to help by giving them something to eat. But protein is the hardest thing to come by.

“That’s why this venison is so important. We can feed a lot of families with this.”

That unlikely alliance was born about five years ago. Sailer was giving a talk to United Way interests and she outlined the good things Operation Breakthrough was doing in the inner-city: feeding children, helping families, giving the young ones self-esteem and putting them on the right path. The biggest problem, she said, was coming by protein.

Mark Schaefer, the marketing director for Bushnell Co., a business based in Overland Park that is known for its binoculars, rifle scopes and other optics, was listening. And he offered an immediate solution.

Brothers & Co., which handles Bushnell’s advertising out of Tulsa, Okla., had an annual deer hunt in which the venison taken was donated to charities. Schaefer offered to have that meat given to Operation Breakthrough.

Not one to turn down a gift, Sailer gratefully accepted. But not without a bit of apprehension.

“I thought, ‘I’ll go back to our facility and tell everyone that I’ve just accepted over 1,000 pounds of venison, and they’ll think I’m crazy,’ “ she said. “I was worried that our moms wouldn’t like it, that we’d have all of this venison on our hands and we wouldn’t know what to do with it.”

That wasn’t a problem.

From the start, the venison was well- received. Operation Breakthrough provided recipes on how to prepare the meat, and many parents raved about how it tasted.

The charity provides breakfast and lunch at its facility for the 312 children in its preschool program. It also has 100 children signed up for after-school programs.

Parents of those children are eligible to take part in the food pantry program, taking home food for dinner. That’s where the venison comes in.

“A lot of these families don’t have exposure to venison,” Schaefer said. “But they’ve found that it tastes great if it’s cooked properly. The processors grind it up and put it in 2-pound packages. It can be used in chili, Hamburger Helper, all kinds of recipes.”

Count Sailer as one of the ones who hadn’t had much exposure to venison before the program started four years ago.

“I’ve never hunted a day in my life,” she said. “But I have nothing against it.

“Where does beef come from? We kill cows, don’t we?

“Why not use deer to feed people in need?”

The concept is nothing new. In Missouri, deer hunters donate thousands of pounds of venison to the Share the Harvest program each year. Kansas Hunters Feeding the Hungry also uses donated venison to benefit food pantries and shelters.

This season’s donation to Operation Breakthrough can be traced to the heart of the Oklahoma deer season in November. About 50 hunters connected to Brothers got together for a hunt on a huge piece of land near Vinita, Okla. Over four days, they took 18 deer, including one 12-point buck. The deer were taken to a processor and ground into venison.

On Thursday, representatives of Bushnell and Brothers delivered the bounty to Operation Breakthrough.

“This venison will feed our families for six months,” said Sailer. “It really is a blessing.”

The program is equally important to the hunters involved.

“To know that we’re helping feed needy children, that means a lot to us,” Schaefer said. “We know that the venison from this hunt plays an important part in somebody’s life.”

The Wisdom of Sister Berta Sailer

Sister Berta Sailer is a tireless advocate for children, especially the underprivileged and needy.

She and Sister Corita Bussanmas, when relocated to Kansas City, decided to champion the cause of children. In the early 1970s, they started Operation Breakthrough in the basement of their house, caring for four children.

The concept kept growing and they continually outgrew the facility they were based in as they took in more children. Operation Breakthrough eventually landed at 3039 Troost Ave., where it provides day care for children up to 5 years of age and after-school programs for children from ages 5 to 12.

Bussanmas has retired because of health problems. But Sailer, 77, continues on.

And she remains as devoted to helping Kansas City’s inner-city children as ever:

∎ “When I came to Kansas City in 1967, families were poor, but not like today. There weren’t as many homeless, no food pantries, not as many shelters. People didn’t go hungry like they do today.”

∎ “On the news so often, they focus on the nitwits in the world. But we can let the kids know that there are good people out there. People willing to help.”

∎ “There shouldn’t be hungry kids in this city. There shouldn’t be homeless kids out there. “

∎ “People form opinions when they see people on food stamps. But these are good people. They work hard. They’re not lazy. They’re just struggling.”

∎ “Some of these kids are exposed to the bad side of guns. But this program (where hunters donate venison to help feed needy children and their families) is guns doing good for our community.”