BRIDGER — Volunteers with the Billings nonprofit, Montana Veteran's Meat Locker, took a 106-mile tour through four Carbon County towns Saturday, giving free domestic and game meat to veterans and their families.
MTN News talked with the volunteers at their first stop in Bridger at 9:30 a.m. Jerad Werning, a board member for the Montana Veteran's Meat Locker, spear headed the organization of the nonprofit's first distribution effort of the year. He grew up in Edgar, just 13 miles north of Bridger.
"I figured it would be a good place. We get a lot of donations from Carbon County of wild game and beef, so why not give back to the community? We just planned to do a loop to hit all of Carbon County as much as we could," Werning said.
The group of volunteers stopped in Bridger, Red Lodge, Joliet, and Rockvale over the course of the morning.
“It was really busy right at first, then it slowed down a bit. You know, these small communities. Hopefully we get a few more. I’ll bet we’ve had 20 people so far," Werning said about midway through the Bridger stop.
Werning served in the National Guard for 12 years and was deployed to Iraq from 2004 to 2005. He's been out of the national guard for eight years and has spent the last four years with the vet's meat locker.
Werning said his service to the nonprofit gives him purpose.
“It’s great. It’s a good way to give back. It helps me out mentally. It kind of gives me a purpose again to help serve the state and fellow veterans and the communities around here," Werning said.
Werning is even able to do the volunteer work with some old friends
“It’s great camaraderie. Actually, a few of the guys that are helping here, I was actually in the service with and I haven’t seen for probably 15 years. It’s a pretty good deal," Werning said.
The Montana Veteran's Meat Locker has been donating meat to veterans for five years. In that time, volunteers have distributed more than 77,000 pounds of meat to around 5,700 veterans.
The nonprofit was started by Chris Grudzinski and his wife Kristin, with the two originally storing meat in their garage freezer. Now the group has a freezer trailer that can reach more vets across the state.
Hunters and ranchers donate their harvests and the vet's meat locker pays for processing and distributes the processed meat for free.
"The ranchers, farmers, they’ve been great and all of the hunters around here have been great. It’s Montana giving back to Montanans," Werning said.
The Montana Veteran's Meat Locker is a good example of how Montana communities often help each other out, Werning said.
“A lot of this is happening in Yellowstone County and Billings, that’s just because that’s where we’re based, but we’re trying to push it out because you know Montana, we’re all just one big community really. It’s just a great organization that I’m grateful to be a part of," Werning said.
Grudzinski said the nonprofit set a lofty goal this year of distributing meat in every single town in Montana. With 235 census-designated places in Montana, the freezer trailer will put on a lot of miles this year. Werning said the nonprofit is always looking for donations, either monetary or in the form of meat.
If people put up the money to process their own meat, they can be entered into regular raffle drawings the nonprofit hosts, Werning said.
"We’ve got ranchers that are donating beef and bison. The more donations that we can get, either monetary or animal-wise is great and we’re always looking for processors that are available. They are super busy this time of year, especially this year with COVID-19. Trying to find processors that can get us in and work with us and help us out would be a great deal," Werning said.
To learn about the next Montana Veteran's Meat Locker distribution event, keep an eye on their Facebook page by clicking here.