KINGSTON — Hunters are encouraged to help feed the hungry as they head out into the field for the upcoming deer season.
Hunters Sharing the Harvest (HSH) is a venison donation program that started in 1991. A registered non-profit charity, the HSH program’s goal is to provide 100,000 pounds of venison throughout 21 regional food banks in Pennsylvania to feed hungry families.
Michael Serbin, of Wyoming, is the Luzerne County coordinator. He said about 28 deer were donated in Luzerne County last year, and that about an average of 14 deer are donated each year.
John Plowman, executive director for HSH, said that about 92,000 pounds of meat were donated last year from hunters across the state. He estimated a 20 percent increase for the demand of meat going forward.
“The Hunters Sharing the Harvest Program has now reached the situation where more people need food assistance than ever before because of changes to the economy, their employment, their home ownership problems and just changes in general across the state,” he said.
Serbin explained how the donation process works.
“I coordinate between the hunters and butchers,” Serbin said. “I have butchers that have been approved throughout the state to refrigerate the meat, and what I do is try to get hunters up to these butchers to donate deer.”
Serbin said hunters that donate a deer also typically have to pay a $15 tax-deductible donation to have the deer processed.
“The butchers grind the meat up in to hamburger, and we have special packages,” Serbin said.
Then the packaged meat is sent to the state’s regional food bank, which is the Weinberg Food Bank locally. The meat is sent to providers, which include missions, charities, food pantries, homeless shelters and the Salvation Army.
Rich Kutz, executive director of the Weinberg Food Bank, said the food bank has been involved with HSH for the last 10 years. It received about 5,000 pounds of venison last year.
Kutz said it was initially thought that only agencies in rural areas would be interested in venison, but he said many agencies are willing to take it.
For the cause
Despite the success in 2012, Serbin said that not many hunters donate to the program. Some reasons he provided included hunters not knowing about the program and not being able to find deer.
Serbin saw HSH as a “worthy cause” for hunters to donate to once their own freezers are full. Serbin used to donate his second deer each year, but now he said he donates his first to feed the hungry.
“For myself personally … it’s just this great feeling that you’re helping out hungry people,” he said.
This year will also mark the first year of the partnership between HSH and Cabot Oil & Gas Corporation. A news release announcing the partnership states that Cabot will sponsor the cost of butchering donated deer for employees in Susquehanna and Wyoming counties.
Along with enabling hunters to tap into a “replenishable source of meat” to feed the hungry, Serbin said HSH is was a way to save taxpayers some money.
“If the program didn’t exist, the government has to feed these people,” he said.