Each year, the generosity of Pennsylvania’s hunters results in about 200,000 meals for the state’s hungry.
And adding to the total has never been easier.
By donating venison through Hunters Sharing the Harvest – a program that works through a network of meat processors to channel venison donations to local food banks, soup kitchens and hungry families – hunters extend their helping hands to those in need.
And, once again this year, the Pennsylvania Game Commission and other partners are making it easy for hunters to help out. The Game Commission again donated $20,000 to the program – money that enables Hunters Sharing the Harvest to accept venison donations without charging hunters. In prior years, hunters who donated venison needed to also pay a $15 tax-deductible fee to cover deer-processing costs.
Kevin Naugle, owner of Naugle’s Custom Butchering in Hunlock Creek, has been participating in HSH since the program’s inception 25 years ago. He said the donation process is so easy that it’s a benefit for all involved.
“Hunters just bring their deer in, fill out the form and leave. There’s no fee,” Naugle said. “On my end, all of the donated meat is made into ground meat and the CEO Weinberg Food Bank picks it up and distributes it through the soup kitchen in Wilkes-Barre.”
Processors are reimbursed for the butchering by HSH and Naugle said he does the work at a discounted rate. Because the program is registered as a non-profit, corporate and private donations, along with funds from the PGC, are used to offset the reimbursement costs to processors.
Game Commission Executive Director Bryan Burhans said the agency is proud to partner with Hunters Sharing the Harvest, a program that exemplifies the generosity of Pennsylvania’s hunters.
“There’s no greater gift than feeding someone who is hungry, and our state’s hunters have stepped up to do that, time and again, by working through the program to generously donate meat from the deer they harvest to people in need,” Burhans said.
The state Department of Agriculture also partners with HSH to cover costs to process the meat, with the department increasing its share of financial support over the last two years in order to process even more donations.
Generous sportsmen and women set a new HSH record with a total donation of 2,947 deer during the 2016-17 season. The partnership covered costs to process 120,515 pounds of deer meat into 589,400 servings of venison for individuals and families. Because of the increased donations, an additional 20 meat processors have been recruited to help turn hunters’ donations into high-value protein for hungry families.
This year, the department will cover the service cost of more than 100 processors in 49 counties.
“Pennsylvania hunters have steadily increased their donations,” said Agricultural Secretary Russell Redding. “In recognition of that characteristic generosity, we are committing up to an additional $5,000 to help cover the costs of processing deer meat during the 2017-18 season. Together with Hunters Sharing the Harvest, Feeding Pennsylvania, and the Central Pennsylvania Food Bank, we can make a difference for Pennsylvania families who struggle with hunger this winter.”
Naugle said hunters donate an average of 35 deer per year at his shop, and he’s already had 15 deer donated during the fall archery season. While the $15 processing fee is waived only for hunters who donate an entire deer, Naugle said some hunters still pay to have their deer butchered while donating the ground meat and keeping other cuts, such as the tenderloin or steaks.
Last year, according to Naugle, his business processed a couple thousand pounds of venison for the program.
“Some hunters will donate the first deer they harvest and then take a second one during the season to keep for themselves,” Naugle said. “It allows hunters to keep enjoying their time afield if they have more than one tag to use.”
For information on where to take deer to be donated, or to learn more about the program, visit Hunters Sharing the Harvest’s website, www.sharedeer.org.
Reach Tom Venesky at 570-991-6395 or on Twitter @TomVenesky