Former Pittsburgh Steelers Brett Keisel and Ben Roethlisberger teamed up again to kick off this fall’s promotional campaign for Hunters Sharing the Harvest (HSH). Both avid deer hunters, Keisel and Roethlisberger gathered with HSH volunteers and supporters at the Collier Sportsmen’s Club in Oakdale, suburban Pittsburgh on Thursday, Nov. 10 to encourage hunters across western Pennsylvania to consider donating one or more deer to the HSH effort.
Since 1991, HSH has channeled more than 1.5 million pounds of deer meat, donated by Pennsylvania hunters, to food banks, soup kitchens, and churches for distribution to those in need.
“This is a wonderful program, so fitting for western Pennsylvania to find creative ways to help others,” Roethlisberger said. “In Allegheny County you can get a lot of deer tags now, and I have taken several deer to participating Hunters Sharing the Harvest butchers. I’m proud that my son has donated even more deer than I have. Of course, up until this year, he’s had more time than I’ve had to hunt. Now that I’m retired, I can hunt more and keep more of my jerky that my lineman used to eat up. But I’ll still only keep one deer and donate the rest to the program.”
“I’m from Wyoming where I loved the outdoors,” Keisel said. “I didn’t know what to expect when I got drafted to Pittsburgh, but I found out about all the hunting here and I felt at home. When I learned about Hunters Sharing the Harvest, I loved the idea. What a great program this is, through which we can do what we love so much — hunt — yet help others at the same time. I’m proud to be a part of this.”
Randy Ferguson, Hunters Sharing the Harvest executive director, based in Greenville, Mercer County, praised hunters for record-breaking venison donations over the past two seasons.
“When we hit 190,000 pounds of donated venison in 2020, we thought it might be a temporary anomaly, linked somehow to the pandemic when everyone wanted to get outside, and when there was an elevated spirit of helping others,” Ferguson said. “But last year (2021) Pennsylvania hunters donated 187,000 pounds, coming within just a fraction of a percentage point of their record the year before.”
Ferguson outlined how the HSH program works. He said hunters who decide to donate a deer take it to one of 125 certified butchers across Pennsylvania who participate in the HSH program. There is no fee to the hunter because generous HSH-supporter businesses, agencies, and individual donors have already paid the butchers’ processing fees through program sponsorship. Butchers grind all donated venison into burger because it is the most versatile way to use the meat, and food bank personnel pick it up for distribution to people who need it.
“Before Hunters Sharing the Harvest reached this scale of effectiveness, we were dependent on highly processed foods high in sugar, salt, and fat that weren’t very nutritious,” said Sheila Christopher, executive director of Hunter Free PA, an organization of community food banks. “Through HSH today, we’re able to provide high-quality, low-fat, red meat protein that otherwise would be prohibitively expensive for food banks and other food assistance organizations. Please keep us in your thoughts so we can continue to provide nutritious protein to people who would otherwise seldom have it.”
One of HSH’s biggest sponsor donors is the Pennsylvania Dept. of Agriculture, engaged in a 5-year sponsorship plan totaling $145,000.
“We have here today a confluence of three great Pennsylvania traditions — deer hunting, agriculture, and helping your neighbor,” said Cheryl Cook, Dept. of Agriculture deputy secretary. “This program along with food assistance volunteers across the state have been working so hard to make a positive difference, especially during the height of the pandemic when we saw those long lines of people in need of help.”
Seth Mesoras, Information and Education supervisor for the Pennsylvania Game Commission’s Southwest Region said, “This program shows hunters in their best light, where they can be appreciated by the public. Hunters Sharing the Harvest also helps the Game Commission meet its all-important deer management goals across the state. Thanks to everyone here who has had a hand in making this program a success, and a model for the rest of the nation.”
The Pennsylvania Game Commission is also a financial supporter of the program.
Several corporate donors attended the event to present checks of support. Dave Bojtos and Amy Hopkins presented HSH executive director Ferguson with a check from CNX Energy for $2,500. Diehl Automotive Group donated $1,500. Seneca Resources, National Fuel presented a check for $5,000. Christina Kramer of Range Resources noted that her company has contributed $50,000 to HSH over the past eight years and plans to continue its support.
Bojtos, of CNX, added that CNX leases about 80,000 acres of land across western Pennsylvania to hunters and hunting clubs each year. “We always encourage our hunters to support Hunters Sharing the Harvest by donating a deer,” Bojtos said.
“None of this would be possible without the dedicated help of these companies,” said retired HSH executive director John Plowman, who continues to volunteer with the program. “Their generosity complements that of hunters who ultimately provide the food from a natural and renewable resource.”
Ferguson closed the ceremony by reminding that hunters who wish to donate a deer can find the address and phone number for participating butchers and HSH volunteer county coordinators on the Hunters Sharing the Harvest website (www.sharedeer.org).
The website, Ferguson added, also can help butchers who want to become part of the program to become enrolled.
Keisel summed up this way: “What I’m most proud of is that you don’t even know the people you are helping through Hunters Sharing the Harvest, but you make it possible for them to get through another day.”