It was 20 years ago that a group of hunters decided the time had come for them to begin a pro-active project to feed the needy.

Today, that project – which became known as Hunters Sharing the Harvest – is on a pace to have its most successful year ever. And that, according to executive director John Plowman of the Harrisburg area, means more than 100,000 pounds of ground, processed venison is expected to find its way to food banks throughout Pennsylvania.

Participating butchers in the HSH project are paid for their services through monetary donations, coordinate the meat deliveries and work with local food banks. Food banks redistribute the venison to more than 4,000 local food assistance provider organizations such as food pantries, missions, homeless shelters, Salvation Army facilities, churches, and needy families.

"There are 1.4-million families in the state of Pennsylvania in need of assistance, and Hunters Sharing the Harvest provides an excess of 750,000 meals annually to help feed the hungry," Plowman said. "This year, donations of deer are ahead of last year, but we're always looking for more participation.

"We've made it as easy as it possibly be for people to learn about us on our website at www.sharedeer.org and ask them to follow the links "About Us," "Donate," "Processor," "County Coordinators," "Food Banks" and "Sponsors." Specific questions can be emailed to info@sharedeer.org or call toll-free at 1-866-474-2141."

Plowman said that since 1991 the HSHarvest venison donation program has coordinated the processing and distribution of donated wild game from hunters and municipal herd reduction sources to hungry people throughout Pennsylvania. An average-sized deer will provide enough highly-nutritious, low-cholesterol meat for 200 meals.

This sportsmen-inspired community service outreach effectively channels this wholesome venison product via an integrated network of approved deer processors and food banks down to the most local charitable provider organizations in our urban and rural communities. HSH has evolved as a respected partner with deer management practices throughout Pennsylvania.

"This program is based on a unique concept developed by Pennsylvania hunting interests, and the yearly deer-season accomplishments are based on the cooperation of our dedicated volunteer county coordinator base, board of directors, legislators, state and local agencies, in concert with our colleagues from a dedicated outdoors news media," Plowman said. "All these components work together with a common mission to maximize the best utilization of a valuable wildlife resource to help others needing food assistance and is a registered 501c3 non-profit charity, with funding and support primarily derived from a mix of public and private sources.

"Individual financial donations also come from generous hunters and non-hunters who uphold a strong belief in supporting the outreach effectiveness of their own brand of social service. Coincidentally, it has developed into the preferred nationally-recognized model many other states have now replicated, and from its inception, Hunters Sharing the Harvest was founded as the signature mechanism for Pennsylvania hunters to demonstrate their own personal and compassionate decision for helping those low-income individuals and families with extra venison.

"Many wildlife management units in Pennsylvania offer multiple deer tags, longer seasons and special hunting opportunities that result in extra deer being donated by sportsmen and women. This allows Hunters Sharing the Harvest to remain the most effective social-service program conduit for hunters and wildlife managers to directly make a difference, often from actions that take place in the fields and forests."

Plowman said that with more than 1.4-million Pennsylvanians classified as living beneath the lowest-income poverty level, the recent economy downturn has only escalated the need and requests for food assistance. In an average hunting season, the HSH program's goal is to channel about 100,000 pounds of processed venison annually through the state's 21 regional food banks.

"This program is all about the generosity of hunters and their desire to help make a difference," Pennsylvania Game Commission executive director Carl Roe said. "It's a program that many hunters have become committed to and enjoy supporting, and nothing is more gratifying than helping others in need."

As part of the program, hunters are encouraged to take a deer to a participating meat processor and identify how much of their deer meat from an entire deer to several pounds that is to be donated to HSH. If the hunter is donating an entire deer, they are asked to pay a $15 tax-deductible fee, and HSH will cover the remaining processing fees, or a hunter can cover the entire tax-deductible cost of the processing.