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I was doing my best to stay awake when I heard the noisy chatter of a flock of turkeys making their way in front of my stand. As I admired the handsome birds and the cacophony of calls, I realized they were not alone. Four does were following them, marching silently through the forest, and had I not been paying attention they might have slipped right by, covered up by the sounds of the turkey parade. But I did see them, and one well-placed shot later, a doe was down. This deer, however, was not for me; it was for a friend in need.
During these tumultuous times, it often seems like we are helpless. Many people are suffering, and for those of us that are fortunate to have our heath, our job, and our family, we wish to help others. There are many things we could do—like volunteering at the local food bank, or donating blood. Doing those things works great during “normal” times, but during a pandemic they can be more difficult to accomplish, particularly for people that are high risk. We should still try to do them if we can. But when we can’t do any of those things, we can hunt to help others.
Hunters Sharing the Harvest (HSH) is Pennsylvania’s hunger relief program focused on encouraging hunters to harvest and donate deer for the hungry. The mission of HSH is to alleviate hunger and malnutrition in Pennsylvania by covering the processing fees and distributing donated venison to those in need. The program also provides an outlet for hunters to help their communities by providing a healthy, sustainable source of protein for the needy.
Hunger is becoming more and more of an issue, particularly among children, given the pandemic, lost jobs, and fewer kids in school where they can often access nutritious lunches. The Brookings Institute estimated that 14 million children across the nation were living in a home without food security this past summer—meaning at some point during the week, they didn’t get enough to eat. This is two and a half times the number that were food insecure during the Great Recession of 2008.
Pennsylvania is no different than the rest of the country. Over 1.4 million people, or about 1 of every 9 people, struggle with hunger in the Keystone State. Of these people, almost 400,000 are children. Clearly, things are bad for many people, and particularly kids. Hunters can make a difference, and they have been for many years.
Since 1991, Hunters Sharing the Harvest has distributed over 1.5 million pounds of venison to food pantries and community assistance centers throughout the state. That isn’t enough to solve Pennsylvania’s hunger problem, but it is a tremendous start in the right direction. And if more people participated—either by dropping off deer at local participating processors or by donating funds to help pay for butchering—HSH could do even more. Now is the time for all of us to step up and make a difference.
You can learn more about HSH at: sharedeer.org. If you usually butcher your own deer, you can use this website to find a local participating processor; there are several in Allegheny County (including Kip’s Deer Processing in Carnegie and George Jameson’s Wild Game Processing in Elizabeth) and about 120 throughout the state. If you have a favorite processor already, make sure they are on the list of businesses donating their services to HSH. If they are on that list, please thank them for their service to the community. If they are not, ask them to join and tell them why it’s important to you. Many of these processors donate a portion of their time for HSH, and they are as critical to helping alleviate hunger as the hunters that harvest the deer and the food banks that distribute the food.
Here is a Hunters Sharing the Harvest challenge. Join me, and pledge to yourself, your family and your friends that you will donate at least one deer this year. Maybe you take the first one for your own freezer, but the second one goes to HSH. How you configure the challenge is up to you, but make sure other people know about it, and challenge your friends and family members to do the same, so you can keep each other accountable and have some fun at the same time. If you don’t hunt, pledge to help support Hunters Sharing the Harvest with a donation to help with processing costs, which you can make at their website.
Hunters Sharing the Harvest won’t solve all of the world’s problems, or even Pennsylvania’s, but it has helped alleviate one, and we know we can do more. Right now, there are literally millions of hungry people in the Commonwealth, including children, which need our help. So as you are watching wildlife pass your stand this fall, think about all of those needy people, and pull the trigger one more time, or send one more arrow or bolt on its way. A lot of people are counting on us for help, and they need that help more than ever before.