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Sharing the Harvest

Hunters donate their deer to feed the hungry

November 8, 2019 Hunting

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Tiffany Criswell, right, and Dan McKruit of McKruit Meat Packing in Cabot carve up fresh venison for the Hunters Sharing the Harvest program.

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.”

Dan McKrait of McKruit Meat Packing in Cabot carves up fresh venison for Sharing the Harvest.

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.

John Georgic, left, and Timmy White work at McKruit Meat Packing in Cabot, which is one of five deer processors that accepts donations for Hunters Sharing the Harvest, a program that provides food to area food cupboards.

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

PROCESSORS

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

Monetary donations to defray program expenses can be made to Hunters Sharing the Harvest, 6780 Hickory Lane, Harrisburg, PA 17112

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Nathan Bottiger

Nathan Bottiger

Nathan Bottiger graduated with a degree in journalism in 2015 from Pitt-Johnstown. A business reporter, he also covers Slippery Rock borough, township and school district.