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Hunters share harvest with local families

| Saturday, Dec. 14, 2013, 8:17 p.m.
Stephanie Strasburg | Tribune-Review
Diane (left) and David Olenic (center) of Butler serve meals at a community dinner with other members of Hill United Presbyterian Church from the kitchen at St. Andrews United Presbyterian Church in Butler on Wednesday, Dec. 11, 2013. The church is one of six in a network that rotate to serve low-income area residents dinner every day of the week, and is one of the 22 Butler area drop-off points for donated venison from Hunters Sharing the Harvest.

Deer hunters in Butler County are helping feed local families through a statewide effort called Hunters Sharing the Harvest.

The nonprofit program, in its 22nd year, organizes processing and distribution of donated venison for local organizations. For hunters who have multiple deer tags or hunt for sport, it's a way to put their game to good use.

“They just love deer, and they love to hunt,” Ron Rome, of Rome's Meat and Deli in Butler, one of the participating processors. “They get one, and then another. This way it goes to a good cause.”

In 2012, hunters in Butler County donated more than 8,000 pounds of venison to area food pantries through Hunters Sharing the Harvest, said Butler County program coordinator Tom Rossman. Across the state, hunters donated about 100,000 pounds.

Although the bulk of donations comes from rifle season, which ran from Dec. 2 to 14, Rossman said he delivered 1,070 pounds of venison taken during archery season earlier this fall.

“It's going to be a good year,” he said. “That's unusual. Usually, we get a couple hundred pounds from archery.”

Though official numbers are not available yet, Butler County's four participating processors said this year is shaping up to the bring in the most venison ever.

“I think this year we're going to do better than last year,” Rome said.

To donate through Hunters Sharing the Harvest, hunters take deer to participating meat processors and may pay a small fee to supplement the cost of processing, Rossman said. The program reimburses the processors for the processing cost at the end of the season.

The county coordinators distribute the meat to food pantries as needed throughout the season. There are 22 in Butler County that benefit from Hunters Sharing the Harvest.

“It's good to have it coming in,” said Carol Lambert of Feed My Sheep in Slippery Rock. “Meat is the most expensive thing on the menu, so getting anything helps.”

Venison is a low-fat, high-protein food source, but not everyone likes it. Food pantry coordinators said people tend to have strong feelings about the meat.

“We offer it and some people shudder and say, ‘Deer?' ” said Marilynn McElhinny of the Evans City Community Food Cupboard. “But the ones that love it, love it, and they're delighted to get the deer.”

McElhinny said she's been able to persuade many people to try it, even if they're not sure how to prepare it.

“For people that haven't used it, I tell them if they use it in chili or spaghetti sauce, they won't even notice,” she said. “And they try it and say it's great. It's wonderful that we have extra to give.”

Rachel Farkas is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-779-6902 or rfarkas@tribweb.com.

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