SERVE Fri helps get in the wood for the Lamoille County Firewood Project

Courtesy of Justin Little

SERVE FRI crew loads a truck in Morrisville as part of the Firewood Project

As part of Johnson State College’s SERVE Friday volunteer group, I assisted with the Lamoille County Firewood Project on Fri., Nov. 2. Though we were a few weeks late for the initial volunteer drive, there were still Lamoille citizens who needed our help.

Our group consisted of SERVE coordinators Tara Robinson and Liz Spier, Alyce Bilodeau, a first-time volunteer, and me. We met up with program coordinator for the federally funded Retired Senior Volunteer Program, Dan Noyes, at the firewood pile in Morrisville.

Noyes pointed us towards the truck we were filling with split wood — the program asks various businesses, often garden centers, to donate their time and fuel by loaning their flatbed trucks to the cause. The wood itself usually comes from trees cut down by utility companies and brought to Morrisville so they do not go to waste.

Noyes explained that the Firewood Project began with rising fuel costs. “About, oh, five years ago now, we were looking at pretty high oil prices in Lamoille County,” said Noyes. “Dawn and I from the United Way got together and we said, ‘what can we do locally that’s basically low-cost or no-cost to help people get through the winter with their heating?’”

“We pulled together a meeting with a bunch of people from Agency of Human Services representatives,” Noyes continued. “At that first meeting we were trying to come up with some ideas about what we can do to help people heat their homes when oil was at four bucks a gallon, which is about where it is right now. One of the things that came out of there is, ‘let’s try to start some sort of firewood program,’ and we got the Department of Forests and Parks to give us some firewood. Then I went about trying to find volunteers to come down here with chainsaws and cut it up, and split it.”

When our group arrived, The wood was already cut and split. All that was left was to move it into the truck, though the simplicity of the action obscures the strong back it requires. I am proud to say I was tired after the truck was full. Halfway through, we were assisted by two other JSC students, Jesse Warren and Hayden Archibald. They did not officially sign up for SERVE, but their help was just as welcome, and they brought some music to give our work some rhythm.

Noyes said the project has evolved a lot since its humble beginnings. “At the first year, I didn’t have anything, you know. I didn’t have a wood splitter, so I had to go out and try to beg one, and rent them, and we basically had no money to run the program.”

The Firewood Project didn’t stay small for long, though. “Over the years we have grown the program. We have a firewood processer now that actually pulls the log in, cuts it, splits it, puts it on that conveyer belt and onto the pile,” said Noyes. “I’ve got a couple of volunteers that are here every day. They’re 70 years old; they love it. They don’t have to lift any wood; it does it all automatically. They’ll go out, work for a couple hours and then they’ll go to McDonald’s… And then they’ll come back to work for some more time. They did that whole pile of wood there. We actually had a huge pile here; we provided 150 cord of firewood to about 70 families this fall.”

There were still families in need, of course. Having loaded around five pallets worth of wood, we got to visit one of the Lamoille County citizens accepting our donation. The Firewood Project considers the privacy of their clients, and does not give information about those who need their fuel; however, I can say that the person in question was very thankful, and deserved all of the help received, if not more.

Noyes is glad to get help from anybody, even if they could not make the 9/11 service day rush earlier this season. “Right now the program’s closed, and what we’re doing is relying on case managers from Home Health and [the]Council on Aging to let us know of people that are in need of firewood to make it through the winter,” said Noyes. “We can’t provide people with all their heating resources, but this is better than nothing.”