A local man who uses donated deer meat to feed members of the local hungry community is now expanding his mission.
With the help of the Florida Wildlife Commission and Milk and Honey Farms, Chris Davis, founder and president of Openhanded Ministries, has served food to over 500 undernourished families.
Davis, 41, started the nonprofit in 2003 while serving on the wild game committee at his church, First Baptist Church of Middleburg. One day he was approached by Florida Wildlife officers about donating a deer for a committee meeting.
“Once the men showed up in the church, it all sort of snowballed from there,” Davis said.
The officers continued to bring Davis deer they would find – illegally hunted, severely injured or killed in the area. When he asked what to do with the leftovers, the officers told him to be creative.
“They said ‘You can do anything. You can give it away. You can help people. You just can’t sell it,’” Davis said. “We took that as an opportunity to look into how we could help our community, how we could help our neighbors.”
This wasn’t easy on Davis in the beginning.
He would sometimes receive calls at 2 a.m. from FWC officials to pick up deer. He would then have to gut, skin and remove the meat.
“That’s a hard day, getting out of bed to go take care of a deer to help people in your community who have no idea this is even happening,” Davis said.
In addition to cleaning the deer, Davis paid out-of-pocket for the meat [venison] to be processed.
Fortunately, he is no longer alone in his efforts.
Wildlife officers now gut and store the deer in coolers until Davis is able to pick it up. This cuts a substantial amount of time from the cleaning process, leaving only the skinning and meat removal.
Florida Wildlife Official Mike Heath said the ministry has made a great impact in the community.
“We love the fact that there is someone in the area that does this,” he said. “Deer don’t get wasted.”
After hearing about Davis’ mission, Brian Mers, owner of Milk and Honey Farms, offered to process the meat for free.
He said the service not only helps the FWC, but puts the meat where it needs to be.
“He’s helping people, so all around, everybody wins,” Mers said.
And his good deeds have not gone unnoticed.
Davis recalled a time when he showed up late to his daughter’s softball game, wearing jeans covered in deer blood. A teammate’s mother confronted him about arriving late and asked about his attire.
“She asked me what was so important that I would be late, and also if hunting was more important than my daughter’s softball game,” he said. “I explained to her that I was skinning a deer that would be going to the Agape House.”
Davis said she stopped in her tracks and asked, “You’re the guy that does that?”
After he confirmed his role in Openhanded Ministries, the woman told Davis the organization had helped her family and thanked him.
But the food is only a part of the ministry, Davis said.
Meat feeds the stomach, but the gospel feeds the soul – it is for eternity, Davis said. He often refers to Deuteronomy 15, which inspired the ministry’s name, to represent his calling to be giving rather than hard hearted. The chapter commands Christians to lend to the poor and be blessed.
“This is my purpose and passion,” Davis said. “I believe in the gospel and I believe in helping people. I also believe those two things go hand in hand.”