Venison donation program feeds hungry

Hunters can help feed the hungry by sharing their extra venison as part of Pennsylvania’s charitable venison donation program, Hunters Sharing The Harvest (HSH).The program distributes venison to the state’s food banks through a statewide network of participating butchers. Dan Surra was recently appointed Elk County’s new HSH program coordinator. According to Surra, the Northern Elk Food Pantry in Johnsonburg is among the program’s participating food banks. Two local butchers, including Palumbo’s Family Meats, Inc. in Ridgway and The Smoke House, owned by Joe Sarnoski of St. Marys, have recently become affiliated with the program. As part of the program, hunters take their deer to a participating meat processor and identify how much of the deer meat, from several pounds to the entire animal, they wish to donate. Hunters donating an entire deer are encouraged to contribute a $15 tax-deductible co-payment. HSH covers the remaining processing fee, but hunters may also volunteer to cover the entire cost of processing.Meat processors coordinate the meat deliveries and work with food banks, who in turn distribute the meat to more than 4,000 local food pantries, soup kitchens, missions, homeless shelters, Salvation Army facilities, churches and needy families.“Hunters need to fill out a form at the meat processor’s. The meat processors are reimbursed for their services,” Surra explained. “The entire deer is ground into hamburger, which makes it easier. It is then packaged into 2-pound bags.”An average-sized deer will provide enough highly nutritious, low-cholesterol meat for 200 meals. In addition to Elk County, Surra said Jefferson County has also recently become involved with the program.Deer donations are being accepted until mid-January. Donated deer must have been legally taken during hunting season.“We are hoping to get a few deer for a worthy cause. For now I am really glad people are participating,” Surra said. “The program collected 91,000 pounds of venison last year. This year, we are hoping to collect 100,000 pounds.”Each year, HSH helps provide more than 750,000 meals to needy Pennsylvanians. A statewide toll-free number, 1-866-474-2141, is in place to answer hunters’ questions about participating meat processors, county coordinators and other general inquiries.For more on this story, see the Nov. 24 edition of The Daily Press.