PA Hunters give back to help fight hunger

February 11, 2013

By Tyler Frantz

1.3 million… That’s how many people in the state of Pennsylvania live beneath the lowest income level and qualify for food assistance annually. In a downed economy, this figure grows even more drastically, forcing hungry citizens to humbly ask for any help they can get.

With so many families struggling to make ends meet, one particular program has stepped forward to answer the call, helping to put fresh, nutritious meat on the table for those less fortunate. This stellar non-profit organization, which has gained national recognition as one of the biggest and best of its kind, is called Hunters Sharing the Harvest.

Hunters Sharing the Harvest, (HSH), is a brilliant concept which ties generous sportsmen, butcher shops, food banks, corporate sponsors, and even non-hunting monetary donors together into a collaborative network of charitable contributors who team up to help fight hunger across the Commonwealth.

How does the program work?
A successful hunter takes his recently harvested deer to an HSH-approved deer processor in his community. He pays a $15 tax-deductible donation and registers the deer so it can be tracked by the program coordinators. Then the butcher processes the deer, grinds the meat into lean burger, packages and freezes the venison.

Next, a volunteer from one of the state’s 21 regional food banks arrives at the butcher shop to pick up the meat and deliver it to one of 4,000 local providers who will distribute the much-appreciated venison to identified families or programs in need. These providers include local missions, churches, homeless shelters, soup kitchens, and Salvation Army facilities.

After the season, HSH then reimburses the participating meat processors for their services and usage of facilities in preparing the meat for distribution. This fee equates to about $190,000 annually, with funds being raised solely through a combination of corporate sponsors and private donations from the public.

The end result is those less-fortunate being provided with highly valued, quality red meat free of charge. According to the HSH webpage,, “an average-sized deer will provide enough highly-nutritious, low-cholesterol meat for 200 meals.” This goes a long way in helping to feed a multitude of people who are in dire need of food assistance.

The venison donation program initially began as the 1991 grassroots brainchild of an interest group called Pennsylvanians for the Responsible Use of Animals, and has since evolved into the well-respected and efficient model of goodwill that it is today.

Pennsylvania’s HSH program has acted as a pioneer for other states to jump on board as well. Since its inception, 39 states across the US have implemented similar donation programs of their own. For all parties involved, it just makes sense.

From a hunter’s perspective, it allows sportsmen a chance to do something charitable for their community while pursuing a beloved hobby. Jeff Mussleman, Boyertown, lives in a high deer density area of WMU 5C, where a hunter can purchase a number of antlerless licenses with ease.  He has donated four deer to the program in recent years.

He says, “I really enjoy the program because it allows me to extend my season. In most cases if I shoot one deer, my freezer is full. Deer aren’t like trout; you can’t catch and release them. Donating deer to food banks allows me to continue my passion, knowing that I’m putting lean, organic meat on someone’s table who otherwise might not actually eat that night had I not donated.”

For meat processors, the added incentives of program participation include free advertising and guaranteed business from those looking to donate a deer. HSH-approved processors located in the greater Lebanon area include both Bur-Pak and Twin Pines in Myerstown, Sadler’s in Richland, Bair’s in Elizabethtown, and Mease’s in Pine Grove.

Nelson Burkholder, from Bur-Pak Family Foods, acknowledged that there is little extra work on the butcher’s end of things and explained that HSH provides very easy protocol for getting involved. However these aren’t the only benefits.

“Hunter participation has been increasing each year,” Burkholder said, “and it is very rewarding to know that the meat is going to a good use. The food banks are always grateful for it.”

Joe Arthur, of the Central Penn Food Bank says that the roughly 10,000 lbs. of donated venison they receive from hunters each year is very popular amongst the pantries they serve, especially since it is such a healthy option.

“Meat is one of the hardest foods to come by, from a donation standpoint, and we really appreciate all that HSH does for us. We especially want to thank the hunters who donate, because we realize that they’re willingly giving up very good meat. People are eager to receive the venison that HSH provides, and the collection process really doesn’t get much easier for us,” Arthur remarked.

But that doesn’t mean that everything about the HSH system is easy. There is a lot of behind-the-scenes administrative work that needs to be done to ensure the continued success of the program. John Plowman has been around since HSH was first established and currently serves as the state director for the program.

“I am always out searching for new butchers, county coordinators, and sponsors to help support this extremely worthwhile program. Without the support of our generous donors, we can’t function as an organization. We rely on these donations so that we can pay our butchers.” Plowman said.

He added that the cancellation of the Eastern Sports and Outdoor Show could have a somewhat detrimental effect on this year’s fundraising for the program.

“In year’s past, HSH was tied to various booths and exhibits at the show. We were involved with the venison processing seminars, and that helped draw a good bit of publicity and awareness to our cause,” Plowman said.

The show also gave corporate sponsors an opportunity to generate money for the HSH program. For example, Woods Creek Grill, Jonestown, sold their famous elk chili, buffalo burgers, and venison franks to show attendees via a stand outside Bass Pro Shops, then donated a portion of their profits to the organization.

As an alternative this year, Woods Creek Grill is donating a dollar from every venison menu item sold in their restaurant to the HSH program’s “buck for the pot” campaign. This initiative offers donors a convenient, printable receipt for tax-deductible monetary contributions, accessible from the HSH website.

What’s great is that anyone can get involved to help support this excellent program. Companies can elect to join the team of major sponsors, earning special recognition on the HSH homepage, and private individuals can make personal donations as well. It is as simple as visiting

Hunters and non-hunters alike can help HSH reach its annual goal of bringing 100,000 pounds of heart-healthy meat to those who need it most. It’s just a matter of people asking themselves how much they are willing to give to help those in need.

The dedicated HSH volunteers have consistently stepped up to the table, year after year, to ensure that their struggling neighbors will not go hungry. They repeatedly accomplish this task by using an intelligent, organized, transparent system of collaboration, which turns legally harvested deer meat into delicious meals for thankful recipients.

I challenge all readers to consider contributing to Hunters Sharing the Harvest this year if capable. These donations have the amazing potential to help keep 1.3 million people from worrying about where and how they are going to find their next meal.

Thank you to all who have supported and continue to support this very important cause. It makes a huge difference.

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