People are losing their fingers and toes!” It was a phone call that Richard Berg received in 2005 from a stranger about the houseless people staying on China Hat Road that changed the trajectory of his life. At the time, he was president of the congregation at Nativity Lutheran Church in Southeast Bend. Berg wasn’t sure what to do, but he knew he had to do something. So, he and fellow church members collected firewood and brought it to the folks living in tents by the butte. That day, the Wood Bank was created.
Seventeen years later it has evolved into two wood lots, a partnership with six local tree removal companies and dozens of volunteers. Together they provide 300 cords of wood per year to more than 900 qualified recipients—from seniors to those disabled, ill, or on low or fixed incomes. If people are unable to pick it up, wood can be delivered to them.
The program is sustained by volunteers and runs every Saturday from 9 a.m. to noon, year-round. From April through September there are opportunities to chain saw donated tree trunks to a movable size, haul wood between lots, or use one of seven gas-powered log splitters donated by a benefactor to split logs into burnable sizes. During winter months—October through March—wood that has been seasoned for two years is picked up or delivered to recipients.
Margaret Estrada was on the receiving end of the program for ten years while she raised three of her grandchildren. “The Wood Bank saved our lives, really,” she said. “This house is eighty-two years old and only has a wood stove for heat. When I lost my job I couldn’t afford a cord of wood.” Volunteers from Wood Bank also installed new windows she had purchased and replaced her old wood-burning stove with a safe and efficient version that requires less wood to keep warm.
Volunteers, donors and recipients don’t need to be affiliated with Nativity Lutheran Church to participate in the Wood Bank. In fact, most aren’t associated with any religious organization. They participate as individuals, families or as organized groups. The work is not considered difficult, but it’s advised that gloves, closed-toed shoes and clothes that may be covered in wood dust and sap are worn. Typical assignments might include working alongside local business owners or a houseless person. The difference between the two people may not be visible, nor does it matter because Berg’s first rule of thumb is, “do not judge anyone, ever.” Volunteers return week after week because it feels good to give back and do something that makes a tangible impact on the community.
In the winter there can be as many as forty trucks in line to collect donated wood. Recipients are allowed the measurement of one level pick-up truck bed per month. While Wood Bank doesn’t charge for the wood, they do ask for a donation. If a person cannot donate, they’re asked to volunteer so the gift is less of a hand out and more of a hand up.
Henry Ford said, “Chop your own wood and it will warm you twice.” In the case of the Wood Bank, the spirit of volunteerism warms participants long after they give a helping hand.
For more information on services offered and volunteer opportunities, please visit nativityinbend.org.