Maine Deer Hunters Give of Their Bounties to Help Veterans
For the past three years, Shon Ellis of Carthage and Steve Morse of Auburn have delivered deer meat from their hunting bounties to veterans in need who appreciate the generosity and kindness.
The two friends are passionate about hunting, even spending their vacations hunting in Ohio, where they can harvest up to three deer each season.
“The deer that we kill in Ohio, we’re never going to eat it all. Steve went out there this year and got, like, three deer and I got one. It’s too much meat, so we came up with the idea with just finding a good place for this venison to go and started brainstorming,” Ellis said of their plans made in November 2018.
Morse agreed, saying: “We have a lot of hunting opportunities and Shon and I love to hunt. It’s our passion, and while we’re hunting and doing what we love, we’re able to help people along the way. A lot of people, they don’t have a lot of food or a lot of money to buy food, and, you know, you’re not allowed to sell venison, but you can give it away.”
The two hunters have a system for determining the veterans who will receive the venison. While some of that system involves “word of mouth,” the men said Commander Tricia Thurston of American Legion Post 24 in Rumford has also been helpful.
“They donated a lot of bread and canned goods and you name it,” Ellis said. “They have helped us tremendously, and they’ve helped us out with getting the names of all of the disabled veterans that are in need in the Rumford-Mexico area.”
The men decorate each of their “Freedom Boxes,” which hold the donated food, with a red ribbon and a bow. They include a small American flag and a decal of their Maine Hunters Helping Heroes logo for the vets to apply to their vehicles.
Each box is filled with packs of frozen deer meat, along with a loaf of bread, two to three pounds of potatoes, canned goods, crackers and snacks.
“They’re some tickled when they receive it, I can tell you that much,” Ellis said.
Morse is also a veteran who served as a sergeant in the Marine Corps from 1995 to 1999. During some of his service years, he and his troop worked as a ground support unit for United Nations inspectors in Kuwait, but they were not involved in any combat, he said.
“It’s a real thing, you know,” Morse said of the danger that comes with serving in the military. “A lot of these guys have been through it in some sort of capacity, and we just want to help them out. It doesn’t matter their age and whether they’re a combat veteran or a noncombat veteran. We want to help them out in any way we can.”
Ellis said he is from a family “with a lot of history” in the military. His grandfather was killed in World War II and his father served in Korea in 1966 and 1967, later spending two years in Vietnam.
Ellis also wanted to enlist in the service out of high school, he said, but a “bad right foot” prevented him from serving.
“It was kind of an emotional thing for me,” he said, “but I still support (the armed services) to this day, no matter what. We have everything we have because of all of them that sacrificed their lives for us.”
Ellis said he is proud of his nephew, Joseph Bruns, who is the administrator for the Maine Hunters Helping Heroes Facebook page and also a veteran.
“He has served two tours. He was in Kandahar this last time. He just got back a year ago, and he was in Kuwait probably six or seven years prior to that,” Ellis said.
Bruns works for the Mexico Fire Department and “he’s always got his ears out for people that are in need,” Ellis said.
Along with Ellis’ and Morse’s donations from their deer hunting expeditions, other people have donated venison by contacting the two men through their Maine Hunters Helping Heroes Facebook page. Ellis and Morse are also assisted by Jamie Roy of RB’s Meats of Livermore, who has donated his time to cit and process the venison.
Some who have received Freedom Boxes said they wanted to share their appreciation. They include Mike Wilson, an Army veteran from Rumford; Joy Bordeau, a Marine Corps veteran from Rumford; and Melissa Souther Theriault, a Navy veteran from Livermore Falls.
Wilson said she felt “so blessed” to have received the food.
“I’m honored and humbled to receive it,” Wilson said, “but I’ve always told them that I’m so blessed and that if you hear of somebody that needs it more than I do, I can function without. I have family within the area that I can go and say ‘I need to sit with you for supper tonight’ if I don’t have anything, and there might be veterans that don’t have that.”
Bordeau said she appreciates the food Ellis and Morse, which prompted her to assist other veterans with their needs as a member of the American Legion Post 24 in Rumford. In that capacity, she told Ellis and Morse last year about a veteran who needed wood to heat her home, and they found someone who gave her wood.
“These guys are so good,” Bordeau said. “And it’s just the feeling of love that comes with it. Like you know they’re not doing it for fame and glory. They’re doing it just exactly from the bottom of their heart, because that’s how they feel.”
Theriault, the recipient of a firewood donation last year from logger Andre Carrier, said she appreciates receiving the food donations. She recently moved from Rumford to Livermore Falls to care for her father.
“I think (the food boxes) are amazing,” she said. “My father loves it because it’s deer meat, so he gets all excited when that stuff comes because he doesn’t hunt anymore. There’s all different kinds of stuff in it. I was very impressed with it. They’re looking out for their community. They’re a great thing.”
Already thinking about his goals for next year, Ellis said he wants to prepare many venison donation boxes to be given to veterans when they are at the Togus VA Medical Center for appointments.
He said he was hopeful that by then, the COVID-19 pandemic will be at a point where more veterans can enjoy their Freedom boxes and know how much their service is appreciated.