Anita Statler, one of the more than 300 people staying at the Shade Tree shelter, had never eaten buffalo meat before Saturday, when a hunting and fishing TV channel teamed up with local volunteers to bring a different kind of meal to some of Southern Nevada's most needy tummies.
"It was delicious," she said. "Very sweet. Better than hamburger.
"But I thought it was going to be Bambi."
That was the original plan.
The Sportsman Channel regularly holds events across the country where hunters donate venison to food banks and other front-line groups that deal with homeless and chronically hungry populations. They serve two purposes: bringing healthy food to those who need it and providing an outlet for game meat, particularly whitetail deer, which is overpopulated in many parts of the country.
They're hard to come by in Nevada, though, so instead the local chapter of the Safari Club International donated 150 pounds of buffalo, elk, antelope and venison to Shade Tree, and marked the occasion with a chili party.
"This is about bringing awareness to hunger, and showing what sportsmen do to help the community," said Eric Claytor of the Sportsman Channel. Many game meats are "the healthiest. High in protein, high in zinc, high in iron."
The donation and the attention couldn't come at a better time, said Marlene Richter, executive director of the Shade Tree. The shelter has room for 327 women and children, and it's been full since August. At the same time, the worsening economy has taken a bite out of operating funds, about 80 percent of which come from donations. The shelter's facing a $500,000 deficit, she said.
"The women and children who are here -- a lot of them are pretty malnourished by the time they fall into economic crisis," Richter said. "This is also something we could never buy.
"We've cut way back. One hundred and fifty pounds of lean meat goes a long way."
They were joined for lunch by Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman, who said, "I've never seen an event like this."
"It's the most unique philanthropic event I've ever seen. It's the best-looking chili I've ever seen," he said. "My stomach rumbled when I saw that chili."
The Sportsman Channel is also working with the local Three Square Food Bank to provide game meat on a regular basis, said spokesman Greg Hughes.
"We're looking at a bigger partnership with them," he said. "It's not ready to be announced yet."
Contact reporter Alan Choate at achoate @reviewjournal.com or 702-229-6435.