Deer friends: Venison for Vets donation campaign shows community spirit in Fulton County

PHOTOGRAPHER:

Johnstown city attorney Michael Poulin loads a bag of processed venison into a vehicle as part of the Venison for Veterans event, partnering with the Fulton County Sheriff’s Dept. and other local emergency services groups on Friday afternoon.

JOHNSTOWN–When Venison for Vets first started 14 years ago, the “event” was little more than Thomas Georgia, his wife Kathleen, and then-Assemblyman George Amedore, Jr. driving around Montgomery County to hand deliver care packages of meat to a few dozen people.

This year, for the first time ever, the event has come to Fulton County, and the band of volunteers inched toward triple digits, with members of law enforcement, emergency responders, elected officials and other community members coming together on Friday, March 25, to donate more than 60 packages of meat to Fulton County’s veterans, active duty service members and seniors. A similar event in Montgomery County on April 6 will essentially double the efforts.

Hunters in Fulton County donated about 1,000 pounds of venison, 300 pounds of cow, 200 pounds of pig, 200 pounds of black bear, and 100 pounds of elk and mule deer, according to Tom Georgia, a Venison for Vets co-founder.

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Georgia said the idea for the donation campaign started as a way to give something back to those who serve. He said Assemblyman Robert Smullen (R,C,I,SAM-Meco), along with the Fulton County Sheriff’s Office, led the charge in bringing it to Fulton County this year.

“This is one of those great ideas that comes up from the community itself,” Smullen said. “This has been successfully done in Montgomery County and I participated in that, so we were very much eager to start one this year here, and it just worked out perfectly.”

The Fulton County Office for the Aging signed up recipients while Kingsboro Lumber in Gloversville stored the donated meat in freezers. Professional butchers wrapped the meat, and volunteers put the meat into care packages and then dispatched those packages to delivery vehicles behind the Fulton County Sheriff’s office on Friday.

“Fulton County is an awesome county. It’s got people who care for each other,” Smullen said. “And all you have to do is have that community sparkplug to make it happen. Once you start up the engine of taking care of people, people take care of themselves.”

The donation campaign put quality game meat in the hands of people like Parker Simek, a 19-year old in the Air Force, who was away at training in California during this year’s hunting season.

“I was away during the hunting season, and I wasn’t able to receive any venison during that season, so it’s good to be home and get shown a little bit of love from the people around me,” Simek said. “Getting that care package was nice.”

Hunters said they were happy to donate.

“For me personally, I enjoy hunting. I enjoy the venison and sharing that with other people,” said Fulton County Undersheriff Dan Izzo, who helped organize the event in addition to donating meat. “I know there are a lot of people on this list–senior citizens–that can’t get out there and hunt that at one time were hunters. It just makes me feel good to be able to donate.”

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Friday’s distribution event drew some of the biggest names in Fulton County Republican politics. In addition to Smullen and Sheriff Richard Giardino, both Fulton County Republican District Attorney candidates–Amanda Nellis and Michael Poulin–were on hand, along with state Sen. Jim Tedisco (R,C-Glenville) and gubernatorial candidate Harry Wilson.

Wilson, a Johnstown native, was back in his hometown for the first time since officially announcing his candidacy in February. The hedge fund manager and Harvard graduate, who is campaigning on his ability to fix broken systems, is self-admittedly running as an underdog. The state and the Fulton County Republicans have already endorsed Rep. Lee Zeldin, but Wilson said he’s used to fighting uphill battles.

“I’m used to that in my life. I was an underdog when I went from Johnstown to Harvard. I was an underdog when I went from Harvard to finance. I was an underdog when I had to fix General Motors. So I’m used to that in my life,” Wilson said. “What I’ve always done is just work my tail off, get the message out, and get people to buy into our vision and what we can do for them.”

Andrew Waite can be reached at [email protected] and at 518-417-9338. Follow him on Twitter @UpstateWaite.

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By Andrew Waite

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