Making a Difference: Hunters Share their Harvest
By Jennifer Pencek
Ben Moyer, of Farmington, has been hunting since the age of 12. Since Moyer began as a volunteer coordinator with Hunters Sharing the Harvest three years ago, he has donated 70 to 80 pounds of meat. He’s just one of hundreds of hunters in Pennsylvania who participates in a program that allows hunters to share their venison with Pennsylvania food banks via a statewide network of participating butchers.
“I highly value venison for my own and my family’s consumption,” said Moyer, who also serves as the Fayette County coordinator for Hunters Sharing the Harvest, a registered 501(c) (3) nonprofit organization. “My kids grew up eating deer meat. Since I highly value the meat, it did give me a feeling of satisfaction to provide some of it to others.”
Established in 1991, Hunter’s Sharing the Harvest sets an annual goal to channel 100,000 pounds of processed venison through the state’s 21 regional food banks, who redistribute the meat to more than 5,000 local provider charities such as food pantries, missions, homeless shelters, Salvation Army facilities and churches. An average-size deer will provide enough highly-nutritious, low-cholesterol meat for 200 meals.
“If anyone is getting red meat from food banks it probably came from us,” said John Plowman, executive director of Hunters Sharing the Harvest. Plowman, a retired Pennsylvania Game Commission employee, has been involved with the organization since its creation. “The meat really goes a long way and we try to use as much as we can from the deer.”
Once hunters shoot, tag and carefully field dress the deer, it is delivered to a local participating Hunters Sharing the Harvest butcher. The hunter fills out a donor receipt for his deer, and the cost for the butcher to process it is borne by sponsor-supported donations. Butchers help coordinate meat deliveries to local food banks. Since 1991, HSH has distributed 1.3 million pounds of donated venison.
While many hunters primarily hunt deer, others also hunt turkey, bear or more exotic animals such as moose and caribou. Plowman said the organization only covers the processing costs of venison but will accept other meat as long as the hunter/donor covers the cost of processing.
Venison is vacuum-packed in one-, two- or five-pound bags and frozen. When a shipment is ready to be delivered to the food bank, the butcher contacts the organization, which picks up the meat.
Demand exceeds supply
Central Pennsylvania Food Bank, which has locations in Williamsport and Harrisburg serving residents in 25 counties, has received venison from Hunters Sharing the Harvest since 2001. Joe Arthur, executive director, said the organization typically receives between 10,000 and 15,000 pounds of venison each year.
“Hunters Sharing the Harvest works very well for those pantries and clients that desire venison, and this is our only source of venison,” Arthur said. “We wish we had more venison donated through Hunters Sharing the Harvest as demand far exceeds supply. Feedback to pantries is consistently positive.”
York County Food Bank can also look forward to reaping benefits of the program. It, along with Central Pennsylvania Food Bank, signed an agency agreement a year ago reestablishing a relationship to allow venison to be shared between the two food banks. Debbie Krout, director of programs and operations for York County Food Bank, said the Central PA operation, created in 1982, has various programs that serve the different populations of York County, including families and the elderly. In York City School District, 100 percent of children receive free and reduced lunches, and in all of York County, 1 in 9 individuals are food-deprived.
“Meat would greatly benefit those we serve here at York County Food Bank as it would fulfill our mission to increase the quality of and dignified access to nutritious food for everyone who needs it,” she said. “Meat serves as a great source of protein in our daily diets.”
Like Moyer and other coordinators involved in Hunters sharing the Harvest, Sharon Nilson of Snow Shoe continues to spread awareness of the program, especially among butchers in her region. Nilson serves as coordinator of Centre and Mifflin counties and learned about the program two years ago when her sister became involved.
“The butchers I have spoken with in our area love the program and they are happy to see the venison go to a family in need of food,” she said. “Some hunters hunt for the pure joy of it but don’t eat the meat, and some hunt a lot of seasons and have too much, so this is a way for the venison to go to good use.”
For more information about Hunters Sharing the Harvest, including information on participating butchers and ways to get involved, visit ShareDeer.org, e-mail info@ShareDeer.org or call (866) 474-2141.
Jennifer Pencek is a freelance writer based in State College and programming coordinator of Penn State’s Gender Equity Center.