Were's the beef? Or more accurately, where's the meat?

That's a question that few food bank organizers can answer. Although the state's food banks are bolstered by many food donations, the element of a balanced diet that's most often lacking is meat.

Since 1991, hunters have been helping to tip the scales in their favor by participating in the Hunters Sharing the Harvest program (www.sharedeer.org [1]), headquartered in Harrisburg. There are 40 states which take part in the program, and Pennsylvania ranks among the most successful.

Nationwide, last year, hunters donated about 52,000 pounds of meat, which translated into about 208,000 meals.

Here's how it works. A hunter bags a deer, which is taken to a cooperating meat processor that's part of the statewide network. The hunter can donate the entire deer or a specified number of pounds. The hunter is asked to kick in $15 to help support the cost of the program.

Carbon County's participating processor is Haydt's Meat Market, Kunkletown (610-681-4125). Jamie Rockwell, who is the granddaughter of Haydt's owner Faye Haydt, said they've been part of HSH for about 10 years.

"We got information in the mail from the Pennsylvania Game Commission and thought it was a good idea," Rockwell said. "Any hunter that doesn't want the deer can donate it through us."

The standard practice is for the butcher to turn the deer into hamburger, On average Haydt's processes about 10 deer per season for the program. One year, Rockwell said, the deer meat donations were nearly 400 pounds.

The recipient of the Haydt donated venison is presently the Carbon County Food Bank, via the food banks at two Lehighton churches, Trinity Lutheran Church and Zion United Church of Christ. The church's food pantries redistribute the meat to needy families.

"The numbers of deer donated was higher a few years ago," Rockwell said. "I think people need to be reminded about the program, because there's a lot of need for it."

Chris Burkert, Lehighton, who coordinated the Hunters Sharing the Harvest program for Carbon County, said he hopes to expand the program by increasing hunter participation and also by adding another meat processor in Carbon County.

Burkert (484-629-0172) picks up the processed venison from Haydt's and gets in to the church food banks; and he'll also pick up a deer carcass from a hunter who wishes to donate it to the program, he said.

"Very seldom do the food banks get meat to give out to the needy people and families, and it's a shame because deer meat is a very healthy meat, and it's really good," Burkert said. "I'm hoping to get the word out about the program"