When it comes to whitetail deer hunting, Pennsylvania's abundant seasons offer ample opportunity for sportsmen to put a deer, and sometimes more, in the freezer each year.
This allows hunters and their families to enjoy delicious, low-fat venison meals numerous times throughout the year, but for some Pennsylvanians, red meat and other groceries are not as easy to come by.
This is where the nonprofit organization Hunters Sharing the Harvest (HSH), along with the state's 900,000-plus deer hunters, have had such a positive impact statewide for more than two decades.
Founded in 1991, HSH channels approximately 100,000 pounds of ground venison annually to people and families in need via an extensive network of butchers and regional food banks.
In turn, the food banks distribute the meat to more than 3,000 local food pantries, shelters and churches throughout the state.
All of the meat in the program is donated by sportsman, with each deer providing more than 200 highly-nutritious venison meals to those who may need it most.
According to HSH director John Plowman of Dauphin County, demand for assistance and ground venison has actually increased in recent years as more people have lost their jobs.
"A meal replacement like this through our food banks is a way for those people to get food without any questions asked," Plowman said.
"We don't ask for their names, we don't ask for any background on them; all they have to say is they're in need of some food and we're there to give them a hand."
While the primary way sportsmen contribute to HSH is by donating all or a portion of their deer, individuals can also make a difference by serving as a volunteer or making a contribution to help keep the program running smoothly.
As a volunteer-run initiative, HSH can always use additional help operating and administering the program, especially on the local level.
Locally, the group has coordinators in Carbon, Lehigh and Schuylkill counties, but it has openings it would like to fill in both Monroe and Northampton County.
Volunteer county coordinators who help recruit butchers and attract local sponsors and donors, as well as direct people in need to places where they can obtain venison.
"From our chairman all the way down to our county coordinators, a total stream of volunteers makes this thing work," Plowman said.
"And we take donations from hunters, from private individuals and from companies.
"We take any donations any way we can get them to help this meat get through our system without creating any extra costs to the end user. If a hunter donates a deer, we ask that they pay a $15 fee to the processor or cover the cost as a tax-deductable donation.
"Each coordinator is actually is our eyes out there on the road and is the person who goes out and makes the contact with the butcher and businesses to help us find funds. He's kind of the first person to do inspections to make sure the butchers are up to compliance with our local compliance officers so we can bring this meat in through the food channels."
Anyone who is interested in donating a deer, volunteering or making a monetary contribution to Hunters Sharing the Harvest can contact the organization through its website, www.sharedeer.org .
HSH can also be reached at 717-545-1188 and info@sharedeer. org.
Locally, deer can be donated to Haydt's Meat Market, 131 Beltzville Drive, Kunkletown, Pa. 18058 (610-681-4125); Hartman's Butcher Shop, 7291 Autumn Road, New Tripoli, Pa. 18066 (610-298-8232); Lazarus Farm Market, 3605 Rural Road, Whitehall, Pa. 18052 (610-799-3831); Nello's Specialty Meats, 500 Schoeneck Ave., Nazareth, Pa. 18064 (610-759-0628).