It's hard to believe that an estimated 1.6 million people in Pennsylvania will have trouble putting food on the table this Christmas.

That computes to about 1 in 8 residents who the USDA considers to be "food insecure," which means they don't always have access to the food needed to sustain an active, healthy life.

Hunger exists in each of Pennsylvania's 67 counties. In Delaware County alone, more than 21,000 children are living in poverty. Nearly half of them are living in deep poverty, which means an annual income of $11,755 for a family of four.

As food-stamp rolls grow while federal subsidies decline, we see a troubling trend. Wage owners who have lost jobs are forced to dip into family savings. When that's exhausted, and there's barely enough money to pay the mortgage and keep the heat on, hard decisions must be made on where to cut. Food is often a sacrifice.

Thankfully, Pennsylvania's hunters are stepping forward to donate deer meat through programs like Sharing the Harvest (www.sharedeer.org, or toll-free at 866-474-2141). The national program has grown steadily since it started in 1991 and of the 40 states that participate, Pennsylvania has one of the most successful. Last year, hunters donated nearly 100,000 pounds of venison to more than 4,000 emergency food assistance agencies through the state's 21 regional food banks.

Hunters who participate can take their deer to one of 90 participating meat processors throughout the state and donate any amount of venison. A hunter who chooses to give an entire deer is asked to make a minimum $15 tax-deductible contribution to help cover processing costs.

Carbon County's participating processor is Haydt's Meat Market of Kunkletown (610-681-4125) while county coordinator Chris Burkert of Lehighton Burkert (484-629-0172) distributes it to the food banks at two Lehighton churches, Trinity Lutheran Church and Zion United Church of Christ. The church food pantries then distribute the venison to needy families.

This food program will put a smile on the faces of many needy family members this holiday, and more importantly provide needed nutrition for their bodies.

By Jim Zbick

editor@tnonline.com