Colder weather is settling in across Pennsylvania, and the forthcoming holidays have everyone’s thoughts shifting to what they’re grateful for. But that answer comes quite easily to Randy Ferguson, Executive Director of Hunters Sharing the Harvest (HSH) – a 501c3 that works with Pennsylvania hunters and processors to donate venison to food banks across the Commonwealth.
Not only is Ferguson grateful for getting to lead the non-profit organization, but he’s grateful for its popularity and success among the hunting community as it accomplishes its charitable mission of feeding the hungry. HSH funnels donated deer from hunters, to processers, to food banks throughout Pennsylvania; and since its founding in 1991, HSH has donated 2.5 million pounds of processed venison.
Last year was one for the record books, with 235,000 pounds of venison donated by the Keystone State’s hunters – what Ferguson says was a “nation-leading” amount. “When the pandemic hit, there were more opportunities for people to hunt, and there was a generous community spirit – so we figured that donations would be higher than average, which they were, providing our previous record of 190,302 pounds during the 2020-21 hunting season,” Ferguson explained. “But lo and behold, during the 2021-22 hunting season we came in at almost the same number with 187,426 pounds and last year during the 2022-23 hunting season, Pennsylvania hunters blew those donation levels out of the water. We’re really pleased with where we’re at. While we realize that might not be the case every year – because weather and other factors can affect harvest levels – we love that hunters are so aware of and engaged in our program, and we want to keep the momentum going.”
HSH was jointly founded in 1991 by John Plowman, who , now in his eighties, is still engaged with the organization post-retirement and with whom Ferguson still consults from time to time; and Ken Brandt, who passed away in 2016.
HSH ensures that the work and cost involved with processing deer is alleviated for the hunters, since they’re making the generous donation for the good of the community. HSH works with approximately 100 processors statewide who grind venison down into lean burger that is packaged and shipped to regional food banks, local soup kitchens, food pantries and other hunger relief agencies throughout Pennsylvania. HSH reimburses its participating processors for the processing of each deer donated. This processing reimbursement expense accounts for more than 85 percent of the organization’s total expenditures each year, and represents HSH’s most critical fundraising and sponsorship needs.
It’s in growing the number of processors they work with that HSH is looking to expand. “In Lancaster County, we have 10 processors, but in a handful of other counties we don’t have a single one – so we’re always looking for additional processors,” Ferguson explains.
Importantly, as Chronic Wasting Disease has been a documented problem for Pennsylvania deer, HSH only distributes venison from deer that have been cleared negative for CWD to ensure that the meat is safe to eat. “While there has been no connection made between CWD in deer and human consumption of deer infected with CWD, we enforce this strict CWD protocol in order to reassure the public that all donated venison reaching the public food system is negative for the disease,” Ferguson says.
Historically, hunters learned about HSH through word of mouth – but the difference maker and spike in growth over the last handful of years has been through social media marketing, an engaged and active volunteer workforce, and collaboration with sponsors and supporters. Last year’s kickoff event at Collier Sportsmen’s Association outside Pittsburgh featured two former Pittsburgh Steelers greats: quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, and defensive end Brett Keisel. Both retired NFL all-stars donate deer to HSH and promote the program within their circles of influence. Ferguson credits the Pennsylvania Game Commission with a notable increase in traditional and social media exposure, event marketing, and in-kind advertising exposure in the annual Hunting and Trapping Digest that is distributed with each hunting license sold, and with a display ad in the Pennsylvania Game News – which is appropriately timed with the opening of firearms deer season. He also credits groups like the Pennsylvania Outdoor Writers Association and their print, online, and social media members for repeatedly telling the HSH story to their audiences.
“We’d love if anyone who engages in outdoor pursuits or supports the mission of HSH to spread the word about how we help people in need,” Ferguson said, adding that the HSH website – www.sharedeer.org – and its social media channels offer a great deal of information that can be easily disseminated among the business community and public.
Going forward, Ferguson stresses that HSH is focused on continuing to expand the number of processors it works with, as well as increasing the organization’s financial and volunteer support. “I’d encourage folks to visit our website and read more about our unique mission and how we help from a social service perspective, and to get on social media and hear from some of the voices of Pennsylvanians who have been touched by our program – either as benefactors or recipients,” he said.
Helping Pennsylvanians in need while sharing our bounty is something we can all be thankful for, every day of the year.
Seneca Resources Donates Retired Truck Fleet to HSH
On Thursday, November 16, Seneca Resources Company’s Director of Stakeholder Relations Rob Boulware officially presented the keys to a 2019 Ford F-150 XL Super Crew pickup to Hunters Sharing the Harvest’s Executive Director Randy Ferguson during the HSH annual kickoff event at The Ned Smith Center for Nature and Art in Millersburg, PA.
The truck, which was recently retired from the Seneca Resources fleet, will support Ferguson’s travels throughout the Commonwealth on behalf of HSH. In addition to donating the vehicle, Seneca Resources also donated a hard tonneau cover and the design services to complete a re-branding of the vehicle. The truck was decaled by Open Signs in Greenville, PA, where HSH is headquartered.
“This extremely generous vehicle donation provides HSH with a reliable vehicle for me to use as I crisscross the state and will ultimately save HSH on car rental and mileage reimbursement expenses,” said Ferguson. “But most importantly, this sharp, well-branded truck is a rolling billboard for HSH. In the few days I drove it before Thursday’s presentation, I already had several people approach me in parking lots or stores to ask about HSH or take pictures of the truck so they could look up our website or call the toll-free phone number.”
Commenting on the donation, Boulware stated, “The employees of Seneca Resources Company, LLC and National Fuel Gas Midstream Company recognize the importance of families having a warm house and a hot meal during the holidays and year-round. They are dedicated to the role they play to achieve the first part, and we are proud to partner with Hunters Sharing the Harvest to help them accomplish the second – successfully feeding the hungry across the Commonwealth by providing protein to those in need. The truck donation is an extension of our long-established partnership in supporting this great cause.”