Beginning in September with bow and arrow and continuing through the middle of January using approved weaponry such as long rifles, muzzle loaders and flintlocks, hunters venture into Pennsylvania woods hoping to bag that antlered or antlerless deer.

Harvesting a deer meant there would be meat for the long winter month. Yet, many people in southwestern Pennsylvania do not have the means nor the wherewithal to don a blaze orange outfit and look for that trophy.

Since 1991, hunters across Pennsylvania have come to realize just that and, through that altruistic discovery, came the Hunters Sharing the Harvest (HSH), a nonprofit venison donation program for hunters to share their extra meat via a statewide network of participating butchers and food banks across Pennsylvania.

The HSH website, www.sharedeer.org., states that participating butchers are paid for their services through sponsor-supported donations. They help to coordinate the meat deliveries to the local food banks, and, in turn, the food banks redistribute the venison to more than 5,000 local food assistance provider organizations such as food pantries, missions, homeless shelters, hunger-relief organizations and churches that play a vital role in helping to fill the gaps for families and individuals at risk of hunger. HSH has distributed 1.2 million pounds of donated venison since 1991.

The coordinator of this program in Fayette and Greene counties is Ben Moyer. “One deer donated to Hunters Sharing the Harvest results in 200 meals of nutritious red meat, distributed through local food banks, churches and other community organizations,” Moyer said. “Of all food groups offered to those in need, red meat is the most expensive.”

He explained that all a hunter needs to do to help is drop a deer off at one of these participating processors. Pennsylvania’s HSH program is unique among the states. Here, because of the generous support of corporate and state agency sponsors, hunters no longer need to pay a deposit to the butcher when they donate a deer. The butcher’s fees are paid by the sponsors that support the program before the hunting season even begins.

Moyer said in Greene County the Hungarian Smokehouse at 534 North Eighty-Eight Road just north of Carmichaels accepts, processes and distributes deer from throughout the productive deer-hunting reaches of Greene and Washington counties. “That’s the only participating processer in Greene County,” Moyer said.

Moyer said the state has a goal each year to donate 100,000 pounds of venison.

“We are meeting or exceeding that number,” Moyer said.

The HSH website points out more than 1.8 million Pennsylvanians are classified as food insecure. In an average hunting season, the HSH program’s goal is to channel about 100,000 pounds of processed venison annually through the state’s 21 regional food banks. The food banks then re-distribute to more than 5,000 local provider charities such as food pantries, missions, homeless shelters, Salvation Army facilities and churches as well as families.

Candace Tustin, executive director of the Corner Cupboard Food Bank in Waynesburg, said HSH is a “wonderful program.” In a letter to Moyers last April, Tustin wrote, “The Hunters Sharing the Harvest Program has been essential in providing individuals in Greene County who rarely have access to fresh meat and nutritious meals. We look forward to participating in the program each year and are grateful to the coordinators and supporters.”

Tustin also said Corner Cupboard serves approximately 2,500 individuals on a monthly basis.

Also, Connie Burd, executive director of the Greater Washington County Food Bank, wrote to HSH executive director John Plowman of Harrisburg, stating, “Greater Washington County Food Bank fully supports the program and is thankful for those hunters who sacrifice their take sharing with clients who are unable to do so themselves.”

When asked to respond, Plowman said, “This all starts with the hunter in the woods. If you’re a hunter with an impulse to help and a deer to give, we have a place for it.”

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