Evergreen Christian Outreach's lumberjacks and lumber-jill are giants among volunteers.
While not physically as large as the fabled Paul Bunyon, they provide a huge service by splitting innumerable cords of firewood for families in need. The dozen volunteers are so valued that EChO recently gave them red-and-black plaid shirts to salute their service to the organization.
Jo Haynes, EChO's food bank manager, calls the lumberjack volunteers a godsend.
“Without the EChO lumberjacks, we would not be able to provide our clients with what they need,” Haynes said. “There are families that are doing the best they can, and they wouldn't have heat without this firewood. When they are living from paycheck to paycheck, they don't have to worry about paying to heat their homes.”
She explained that she encourages clients to continue to get food from the food bank and firewood until they have six months-worth of savings “so they can weather the storm and help themselves.”
Ranging from teens to retirees, members of the firewood brigade have specific jobs. Mike Wells is the chainsaw guy, while Jay Tierney works the log splitter. Holly and Allen Richardson move and stack the wood, and Holly also has taken on the duty of organizer, letting the volunteers know what work needs to be done.
They are joined by the Richardsons' children, the Greg Culligan family and O'Connors, all of whom provide firewood to help needy families.
Like a well-oiled machine, they work behind EChO's food bank on Meadow Drive. They are happy to have room behind the building to do their work and stack more wood in anticipation of cold weather. They are thankful for Eagle Scout projects that provide a roof over the splitter and sheds to store equipment.
Wells was among the first to volunteer about 15 years ago, when he noticed that needy families were only being given two banana boxes filled with firewood a week. He saw a need, and he decided to fill it.
“This is Evergreen,” Wells said. “There are millions of trees around here. I said, `We can do better than that.' After that, a couple of us started hauling in lumber.”
Tierney joined the firewood volunteers about 12 years ago, when he took one look at the log splitter and decided he had to run it. He works a couple hours a day four days a week.
For the Richardsons, helping with the firewood is something they can do on their own time — squeezing it into their busy schedules.
“It feels so good,” Holly said. “I love that my children have been involved. What a lovely opportunity for our family to be together and support those in need.
“I wear my black and red plaid shirt with pride,” she added.
The wood comes from everywhere — people mitigating around their homes, others with wood to spare. LAM Tree Service brings a lot of wood to EChO.
“You never really know where you're going to get it from, but there's plenty of wood around Evergreen,” Wells said. “The wood is here. People just tell you where it is, and you can have it.”
For Tierney, the work benefits him as much as the firewood helps recipients.
“I'm really happy to be able to provide this service to people who need it,” he said. “As far as I'm concerned, it's been good for me. I regard it as my therapy — physical and mental therapy - that keeps me healthy and keeps me sane. I just love it.”
The firewood volunteers can always use more help — those willing to put their backs into the work — and they volunteer when they have a few hours to spare during daytime hours Monday through Thursday when the food bank is open.
“The volunteers have found that perfect position where they can be supportive of others,” Holly said.
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