Share the meat and share the love. Butler County residents are on board to help those needing food through the Hunters Sharing the Harvest organization.
Tom Rossman, coordinator for Butler County, said 291 deer were donated countywide last year, part of the 150,000 pounds of venison donated statewide.
“Last year, we (in Butler County), accepted about 10,000 pounds of venison, which translated into about 40,000 entrees,” Rossman said.
He said these numbers have rocketed since the program's inception in 1991. From 1991 to 2003, only 3,840 pounds of meet was donated and distributed.
As of last year, 1.5 million pounds of venison has been donated to those in need.
“Our goal has always been 100,000 pounds per year,” Rossman said. “It took until 2015 to reach that goal.”
He said it has quickly become a sought after item at food cupboards everywhere.
“Apparently it goes over in a big way,” he said. “Nutritionally, it's a high-protein, low-fat meat. It may taste a little different than beef, but when it's processed properly and cooked properly, there's very little difference.”
Rossman said those who are served the meat at a cupboard may see it in the form of spaghetti sauce, chili or meatloaf.
The process to donate is “pretty simple,” he said. Hunters drop the deer off at one of five available processors in Butler County.
“It's usually a hunter who has multiple licenses,” he said. “In Butler County now, we can have as many as four deer tags. One buck and three antlerless tags.”
Tiffany Criswell, manager of McKruit Meat Packing in Cabot, said not all hunters are just giving up their excess. She said some go out into the woods with the sole purpose of helping people.
“We have some hunters that go out only to donate deer to help the local communities,” Criswell said.
Bim Slater, whose sons Zac and Zane own Bim's Boloney in Petrolia, said the business started taking in the charity deer in 1996.
“It's been over 20 years,” Slater said. “A lot of hunters are really getting into it.”
Slater estimates about 50 deer were donated and processed through Bim's Boloney last year. He said it is also notable how interested younger hunters are in the program.
“It seems like we're getting more and more every year, so they must be doing something right,” Slater said. “I know the kids really like it because they like helping the needy.”
Criswell said venison has a notably gamey taste, but many people like the meat. She said McKruit processes its donations by adding beef fat from the cattle its butchers.
“It has the beef taste,” she said.
Criswell said she helps at her local food bank in Winfield Township. She said there was once a time when she was growing up that her family needed some food, and the community supported them until were able to take care of themselves.
She said every time she sees a meat bag marked by McKruit, it makes her feel warm.
“It's a great feeling,” she said. “I was raised on deer meat. I know firsthand what it's like to not be able to afford food. It makes me feel like I'm giving back to the people that gave to me.”
Rossman said the increase in participation in the program has come at a good time with many needing this form of assistance.
He said data shows about 1.8 million people suffer from food insecurity.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture defines food insecurity as a lack of consistent access to enough food for an active, healthy life.
Butler County is no exception to people needing food.
Sandra Curry, community partnership manager for Alliance for Nonprofit Resources in Butler County, said the venison sharing program is extremely helpful, and she has worked with the organization in the past to provide better service for those in need.
“I think it's a really valuable program,” Curry said. “I think it's a really valuable partnership. The pantries that receive venison from them are really appreciative that they do it.”
Curry said protein is an essential part of everybody's diet, and it is probably the most expensive part of the meal.
“(Venison is) meat,” she said. “Meat is something that is sometimes hard to come by.”
Curry said that need could be increasing. She said multiple food pantries have reported upticks in numbers of people served in the last two months.
She said an uptick is normal during this time of year with the holidays growing closer. Holidays can be a difficult time for families who are food insecure, she said.
“Anyway Butler County can support its hunger network is important, especially heading into Thanksgiving and Christmas,” Curry said.
According to the Hunters Sharing the Harvest, an average deer will provided highly nutritious meat for 200 meals. The following food providers accept venison:
Katie's Kitchen, Butler
Luther's Table, Butler
Feed My Sheep, Slippery Rock
Food Fellowship for People, Portersville and Prospect
The Lighthouse Foundation, Bakerstown
Evans City Community Food Cupboard
Mount Chestnut Presbyterian Church Food Cupboard
Moniteau Food Pantry, West Sunbury
Petroleum Valley Food Cupboard
St. Andrew's Community Dinners, Butler
St. Vincent DePaul, Butler
Family Life Ministries, Butler
First Methodist, Butler
Cabot United Methodist Food Bank
Senior Adult Ministry, Saxonburg
Summit Presbyterian Church Food Bank, Loaves & Fishes
Feed My Sheep, Zelienople
St. Joseph Roman Catholic Community Meal, Cabot
St. Paul Roman Catholic CommunityMeal, Butler
Southwest Butler County Food Cupboard, Harmony
Salvation Army, Butler
Saxonburg Presyberian Helping Hands
Cabot Full Gospel Fellowship
St. Christopher Roman Catholic Church, Prospect
Gleaners Food Cupboard, St. Ferdinad, Cranberry Township
St. Peter's Anglican, Butler
Helping Hands, North Main Street Church of God, Butler
Grapevine Center, Butler
Plus 1 Ministries, Butler
Covenant Food Cupboard, Butler
Participating processors are:
Ron Rome, Herman
Bim's Boloney, North Washington/Petrolia
McKruit Meat Packing, Cabot
T.A. Giger Deer Processing, Valencia
Bob's Deer Processing, Prospect
Monetary donations to defray program expenses can be made to Hunters Sharing the Harvest, 6780 Hickory Lane, Harrisburg, PA 17112