As hunters again take to Northeastern Pennsylvania's forests next week for the start of rifle deer season, Mike Serbin wants them to think about the fruits of the hunt.
Serbin is the Luzerne County coordinator for Hunter's Sharing the Harvest, a venison donation program that butchers and distributes deer donated by hunters to the hungry through regional food banks.
When deer season starts Monday, Serbin said, most hunters in the woods will be there for the thrill of the hunt – If you're a hunter you're out there to kill things, he said – but for many the desire for meat may be secondary.
Those lucky enough to bag a second or third doe might not need the meat at all.
Serbin's plea is simple – Don't let it go bad.
Hunters can donate their kill – only deer is accepted – by calling Serbin or by contacting one of three participating butchers in Luzerne County directly.
The hunter needs to deliver the deer and pay a $15 processing fee – which Serbin said is well below the $100-plus typically charged for butchering. The hunter may keep the antlers and, for a fee, the cape.
Processors are reimbursed $1.25 a pound of donated venison by the federal Emergency Food Assistance Program.
Meat from the deer is processed and distributed to area churches, Salvation Army facilities, homeless shelters, charity kitchens, food banks, missions and individual families.
Each year the nonprofit says it channels about 100,000 pounds of processed venison through the state's 21 regional food banks, including the Weinberg Food Bank at the Commission on Economic Opportunity in Luzerne County. An average-size deer provides enough low-cholesterol meat for 200 meals.
They'll mix it with pork and make hamburg, they'll make meatloaf, they'll make chili, he said. You don't even know.
Serbin said the program has survived over the past 21 years by word of mouth, and he's as eager to talk to hunters about it as he is to show them the pictures on his cell phone of the turkey he took with a bow, or the bear he shot from a cliff last weekend.
But he also said the county can do better than the 30 or so deer donated last season, and he thinks more hunters would be willing to donate if they knew about the program.
This program not only helps the hungry, but it helps saves the taxpayers a bunch of money, Serbin said, because the churches, they don't have to buy food; they have that deer.
For more information about the Hunters Sharing the Harvest Program, or to donate a kill, contact Mike Serbin at 654-2306 or 498-0957. The following Luzerne County butcher shops participate in the program:
• The Country Butcher Shop, 220 Oak Road, Drums, 788-3044
• Naugle's Deer Processing, 1522 State Road, Hunlock Twp., 477-2229
• Dave's Custom Deer Processing, 584 Cigarski Road, Shavertown, 696-1546
More information is available at www.sharedeer.org.