GREENVILLE — Pennsylvania deer hunters shattered yet another venison donation record in support of Hunters Sharing the Harvest (HSH) during the 2020-21 deer seasons with 4,896 deer totaling 190,302 pounds of venison donated statewide.
The new record represents a 18% increase over the 2019-20 season and was a critical response during a year that saw a dramatic rise in food insecurity across the Commonwealth due to COVID-19. An average sized deer can provide up to 200 servings of lean, high-protein venison. The 190,302 pounds of venison donated during the 2020-21 season will provide nearly one million servings to the food insecure in Pennsylvania this year.
In its 30th year of operation, Hunters Sharing the Harvest is Pennsylvania’s nationally emulated venison donation program, channeling nearly 2 million pounds of venison to hungry Pennsylvanians to-date. Co-founder and executive director John Plowman retired at the end of February. Longtime Mercer and Crawford County coordinator Randy Ferguson was named as Plowman’s successor effective March 1.
“We are so very thankful to Pennsylvania’s hunting community for its continued support of its neighbors in need,” said Ferguson. “Year after year, we are inspired and humbled not only by the increased number of deer donated, but also by the crucial funding support offered by our governmental partners, sponsors and individual financial donors who give of their time and resources to support our mission.”
In 2019, the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture renewed a five-year contract with HSH to provide funding to help defray costs of processing the donated venison. Under the contract, the department pays up to $145,000 annually in processor costs.
“Every year, the generosity of Pennsylvania hunters helps make our charitable food system more charitable,” said Pennsylvania Agriculture Secretary Russell Redding. “That’s why our department contributed an additional $30,000 during the 2020-21 hunting season to help hunters help feed hungry families. It is our hope that $175,000 to process donated meat stretched hunters’ generosity even farther in an extraordinary and challenging year. We extend our gratitude to Hunters Sharing the Harvest for the important work they do to connect hunters and hungry families.”
As the number of donated deer rose toward a record, HSH county coordinators sought additional assistance from counties. Fayette County was the first and, to this point, only county to support the program, donating to HSH $2,000 from its COVID-19 relief funds.
“When the Fayette County Commissioners heard about this opportunity to help process venison to provide it to residents at our local food bank, the Commissioners jumped at the chance to help,” said Fayette County Commissioner Vincent Vicites. “There was a real need to add meat to the food supply in Fayette County during the pandemic. We were glad to help make it happen.”
“We applaud the Fayette County Commissioners’ awareness of the severity of food shortage locally,” said HSH volunteer coordinator for Fayette and Greene counties, Ben Moyer. “And we appreciate their generous support.”
The HSH program is a coordinated effort of more than 100 participating deer processors who accept donated deer from hunters and process the deer into one-, two- and five-pound packages of ground venison for distribution to regional food banks and food pantries.
“Kudos to the entire HSH Team across our Commonwealth for their 2020 record poundage year and it is a good thing – in 2019 the HFPA food bank network on average served 1.11 million people per month,” said Sheila Christopher, executive director of Hunger-Free Pennsylvania. “In 2020 that number increased to 2.5 million people per month. More than 1 million people turned to food banks for the first time in 2020, and most of them keep coming back, as the food insecure in PA remains steady.”
A volunteer force of nearly 60 county coordinators ensure that processors have the resources they need and that the public is aware of the program and the ways they can support the HSH mission. A list of county coordinators is available at https://sharedeer.org/area-coordinators/. Individuals interested in helping in this capacity are encouraged to contact Ferguson at 724-813-0839 or by emailing him at email@example.com.
More information on Hunters Sharing the Harvest can be found at www.sharedeer.org.