For years, the Glory Hole accepted bears to supplement its meals for the homeless.
Bear burgers, bear casseroles, bear spaghetti - the shelter's cooks had a wide menu of options for the game meat.
But last year, Jetta Whittaker, executive director of the Glory Hole, learned from the senior center in Nome that the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation prohibits nonprofits from accepting such wild game meats as foxes, bears and walruses.
"We didn't know that it is illegal," Whittaker said.
This year, the Glory Hole has turned down offers of five bears.
"That was 250 pounds of ground meat I could use for spaghetti sauce," said Bob Thompson, operations manager of the Glory Hole. "We are protein-poor."
The Glory Hole rarely gets offers of deer because venison is more palatable to most people while bear meat has a stronger, wild smell, Whittaker said.
Some of the people served by the Glory Hole said they miss meat of any kind. David Kelley, who is staying at the shelter while planning to go to Anchorage, said he appreciates the three meals a day but he is tired of eating starchy vegetables.
"I will eat whatever you put in front of me," Kelley said. "But you cannot live by starches alone."
Organizations such as the Food Bank of Alaska cannot accept bear meat because of the same regulation.
State food safety officials said even if the organizations could get bear meat from hunters for free, the meat may make people sick.
Domestic pigs and certain carnivorous animals, including bears, might be infested with the larvae of a species of worm called trichinella, causing trichinosis. Trichinosis can result in diarrhea, vomiting, breathing problems and even death in severe cases, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
While people may question why the state allows the distribution of pork but not of bear meat, state officials said there are differences in how pork and bear meat are processed.
"Pork is raised commercially, slaughtered, inspected and processed under the regulatory guidelines of the U.S. Department of Agriculture," said Ronald Klein, program manager of food safety and sanitation program of the DEC "Wild game and bear meat are not."
"This is important because wild animals may be carriers of viruses, rickettsiae, bacteria or parasites that cause illness in humans," Klein said. "Some of these diseases such as trichinosis can be very harmful to people, particularly elders, young children and people with a compromised immune system."
Whittaker said she hopes that the Department of Environmental Conservation can create a method to test for trichinosis or relax the regulations.
"We serve a lot of guys who need protein to get their days going," Whittaker said.
A nonprofit with a yearly budget of $193,000, the Glory Hole has only $4,500 to churn out 54,000 meals a year for the homeless.
"We spend the money on staples such as sugar, salt and pepper," Whittaker said. "We don't have money for the protein."
Dan Rasmussen, who cooks at the Glory Hole five days a week, said meat is the most popular item on the menu.
"When you serve oatmeal, probably six people show up," Rasmussen said. "The day I mixed 6 pounds of bacon with 10 dozen eggs, it was gone in 10 minutes."
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