EAST RIDGE, HAMILTON COUNTY, TN (WRCB) -- Deer hunters can use their skills to help feed the needy this holiday season.

In Tennessee, it's done through a program called "Hunters for the Hungry," which provided venison for half a million meals last year statewide.

Deer hunting is a long-standing tradition in Tennessee.

Passed on from generation to generation and it fulfills a need to control the population of the animals.

According to Jay Sheridan of the Tennessee Wildlife Federation, in 1999 the agency decided to pair this need with another , the need to feed, by creating the "Hunters for the Hungry" program.

"We match those two up and address a critical social need in hunger," says Sheridan.

Until January 1st, hunters can drop off an extra deer at a participating processing facility in their area free of charge.

The facilities are approved by the state department of agriculture.

After processing, the meat is ground and sorted into two pound packages which are distributed to local soup kitchens and food banks like the benevolence room at the East Ridge Church of Christ.

Jim Tidmore and his wife jJan have been running the operation here for eleven years, but this is the first year they've included the deer meat in the dozens of food baskets they give out each Tuesday.

So far it's been a hit.

"People love the venison deer burgers. They found out, so they tell their friends and they all come in and get it. So it's worked out real good," says Tidmore.

The average sized deer yields around 40 pounds of processed meat which can be used in 160 meals.

Michael Farrow recently became jobless and homeless and now lives with other family members.

His first trip to the church to receive food, he was excited to see the surprise in his cart.

"I love deer meat. If I could do it I would get out and hunt," says Farrow.

Farrow is grateful for the church and the hunters who donate their game and says those in need shouldn't be intimated by venison.

He thinks it's a cut above the rest.

"God put it on the Earth for a reason and I'm glad we can take advantage of it and it's something that's not going to waste," says Farrow.

So if you're a hunter and you've been wondering how to pay it forward this holiday season, don't pass the buck. Sheridan says get involved.

"This is a way that a lot of people who maybe can't give in some other way are able to give," he says.

Sheridan says by the end of this deer season, the number of meals the program will provide to hungry Tennesseans is expected to climb into the millions.

Each processor is limited to a certain number of deer it can process for free through the program.

So if you're  interested in participating, call the processor in your area.