Hunters can donate deer hides for veteran therapy program

MARSHALLTOWN — Iowa deer hunters are often asked to donate venison to help feed the hungry, but they’re also urged to donate deer hides for use in the Veterans Leather Program.

Lisa Widick, state spokeswoman for the Iowa Elks, says the state’s Elks lodges collected more than four-thousand deer hides for the program this past hunting season. The hides were trucked to a tannery in Missouri, then the finished leather is sent back to Iowa — and the Iowa Veterans Home in Marshalltown.

“They use the leather as craft program and turn around and make moccasins, backpacks, gun cases, oh my gosh, all kinds of things,” Widick says. “It’s amazing to see, utterly amazing.” The leatherworking program is used as therapy for recovering veterans, but she says it’s entirely reliant on the charity of Iowa’s deer hunters.

“We talk to hunters and ask them, ‘What do you do with your deer hides?’ and most of them say, ‘We throw them in the ditch. Why would we want them?’ Or they’ll take them to Tyson and trade them for a free pair of gloves,” Widick says. “That’s all good and fine. I get it. People need free gloves, too, but look at what your deer hide can do for a veteran.”

Hunters who would like to donate hides should contact the nearest Iowa Elks lodge, and there’s a website where you can locate all 31 of them in the state.

“Every time we mention the word ‘veterans,’ people’s ears perk up. It means a little bit more than just talking about a deer hide and that it’s going to make a pair of leather gloves for a guy in a wheelchair or a pair of moccasins you can buy to wear,” Widick says. “It’s about veterans and keeping them busy and helping them somewhat rehab and be able to have a little bit of production in their life.”

A wide range of veteran-made products, including leather goods, ceramics and beadwork, are available to the public through the Iowa Veterans Home Gift Shop.