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Hunters Sharing the Harvest notes expanding hunger fight, achieves all-time record venison donations

At one of the last such events likely to happen for the foreseeable future, and just prior to the Corona virus pandemic reinventing our lives, hunters, U.S. Senate staff, the state Secretary of Agriculture, news media, food bank representatives, Game Commission staff, and a Pittsburgh Steeler gathered on March 12 to recognize another successful season fighting hunger in Pennsylvania with venison. POWA supporting member Hunters Sharing the Harvest (HSH) hosted the event at the Collier Sportsmen’s Association near Pittsburgh to recognize the program’s many western PA partners.

HSH executive director John Plowman introduced retired Steeler Brett Keisel, saying, “Brett is a great shot and frequent deer donor to our program.”

“I grew up in Wyoming eating deer meat, and when I got drafted by Pittsburgh, I didn’t know what to expect,” Keisel told the assembly. “But then I saw how easy it was to get out into the woods and mountains around here and that lots of people hunt. I knew Pittsburgh was a perfect fit for me, and that’s why I still live here. I believe in this program, and what I’m most proud of is that all of 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.”

Hunters who decide to donate a deer take it to one of 127 certified butchers participating in the HSH program. There is no fee to the hunter or to the receiving food pantries handling distribution because generous HSH-supporter businesses, agencies, and individual donors have already helped cover processing fees through program sponsorships. Participating butcher shops grind all donated venison into burger because it is the most versatile way to use the meat. One average-sized adult deer yields about 200 meals.

“Before Hunters Sharing the Harvest reached this high degree of effectiveness, we were often getting a lot of things like cookies and sugar-coated cereals donated to us. We wanted to move to more nutritious offerings, but lean red meat is expensive for programs like ours,” said Sheila Christopher, executive director of Hunger Free PA, an organization of community food banks.

Plowman noted the consistent support of many private companies, foundations, religious, fraternal, and sportsmen’s groups, including several firms which are part of the state’s energy production sector. “None of this would be possible without the dedicated help of these companies,” Plowman said. “Their generosity complements that of hunters who ultimately provide the food from a natural and renewable resource and helps cover deer processing costs.”

“What we are doing with Hunters Sharing the Harvest in Pennsylvania is not normal, it’s extraordinary,” said Pennsylvania Dept. of Agriculture Secretary Russell Redding. “It’s troubling that we live in a state of such abundance, yet we have 10 percent of our population that struggles for food. To see the overwhelming response by Pennsylvania’s outdoorsmen and Hunters Sharing the Harvest supporters is personally and professionally gratifying.”

Along with the PA Game Commission, the state Department of Agriculture is one of HSH’s biggest partners. Secretary Redding also announced continuing a 5-year plan of support for HSH from his department, totaling $145,000 annually.

Venison donations to HSH once spiked in mid-December, during the state’s regular deer season, but the period of donations has lengthened in recent years because of the growth in archery hunting. “Bowhunters have really taken an interest in us,” Plowman said. “And the archery season is so long, stretching from September to January, that it results in a longer donation span, and more efficient distribution of the meat. Bowhunter’s deer donations now make up one-third of all harvests for HSH”.

The onset of the virus pandemic has caused a significantly increased need statewide for food assistance among thousands of families affected by employment disruptions, health, social and isolation challenges. Before the Covid 19 era, HSH-donated venison was a highly-requested source of supplemental red meat made available to food pantries, soup kitchens and shelters. Now, with the pandemic, it’s become a necessity that can make the difference. HSH processors have distributed most of available donated venison burger to local non-profit outlets to help fight hunger during this crisis, a situation unforeseen back in deer hunting season. HSH is proud that donations of nearly 5,000 deer from the hunting community have proven so vitally important and helpful to families during this crisis.

In other developments for POWA members, the HSH www.sharedeer.org website is undergoing a major upgrade to be more effective, informative and user-friendly. If you haven’t checked it out lately, try a visit and let us know if it works for you. The various links offer up literally every aspect of the program, how it works and who makes it all happen ranging from our processors, volunteers, sponsors and supporters. Also included are links to news items and photos.

Working collaboratively with the Game Commission, we’ll also be unveiling our new spread promoting HSH on the inside back cover of the upcoming 2020-21 PA Hunting Digest. Check it out.

Since 1991, HSH has channeled more than 1.5 million pounds of venison, donated by Pennsylvania hunters, to food banks, soup kitchens, and churches for distribution to people that are struggling. And all that was before Covid19 consequences changed everything, creating even greater needs. Plowman said donation totals during the 2019-20 hunting seasons surpassed 155,000 pounds, again breaking the record of 150,000 pounds set just one year earlier. “As of today, our program has reached another milestone with venison donated,” he said. “The higher totals could not have occurred at a more important time.”

These continuing achievements are only possible thanks to the dedication of so many special leaders across Pennsylvania, including our own POWA-ers Roger Kingsley, Tim Smail, Ben Moyer, Randy Ferguson, Mark Demko, Ron Tussel, and Doyle Dietz who take the time to represent the program’s interests locally.

For more information on Hunters Sharing the Harvest, participating butchers, sponsors, and how to get involved visit www.sharedeer.org, or just contact any of our county representatives.