March 4, 2010

Wood bank helps keep homes toasty

— If you burn wood, you've no doubt had that first fire by now.

Mainers prize wood heat for its true, radiant heat. The woodstove is also a never-fail standby when the power goes out. A fire can provide comfort as well as a means of cooking when the lights go dim.

Thanks to the charitable efforts of local churches and volunteers, folks in Cumberland are getting some heating assistance through the Cumberland wood bank, a growing effort that pairs surplus and donated wood with the heating needs of those less fortunate.

''This is really the first year that it's taken legs,'' says Bruce Wildes, a member of the Cumberland Congregational Church. ''But we've been building the program for about three years now.''

The wood bank was born from a beneficial synchronicity. A family in the church needed heating assistance about the same time someone in the community was looking to get rid of some downed trees.

''Their furnace didn't work,'' said Wiles, ''but they could use firewood.''

Word of the exchange grew, and the program began building in the community. Ice storms typically create downed trees, and property owners often produce wood through routine maintenance. Efforts toward gathering downed trees got in gear as community members heard about the need and began offering up recently cut wood. A local tree company also parted with some wood at a discounted rate.

Labor to process the trees into firewood was the next piece. Wildes said church members soon offered up their services. Volunteers with trucks were enlisted to help deliver firewood, and everything from chain saws and trailers to log splitters and elbow grease emerged from the community.

''Now other churches are interested in participating,'' said Diane Bennekamper, senior minister at Cumberland Congregational Church. ''North Yarmouth may also be partnering with us.''

The wood bank is a natural outgrowth of charitable services the church already provides. Cumberland Congregational Church sponsors the town's food pantry.

''We're fortunate in that the congregation not only contributes to the pantry, but school classes and the Boy Scouts do as well,'' said Bennekamper.

Members geared up and processed some wood early this week. A local Cumberland family has generously allowed the use of their land as a staging area for trees and subsequent processing.

Town government also is pledging some involvement. Wildes said that Bill Shane, town manager, has indicated upcoming logging in the town forest should yield some hardwood for the program.

Not everyone burns wood, however, and some firewood has been sold in order to raise funds for heating oil assistance for those who either don't burn or can't use actual firewood.

The church is actively looking for both wood donations and volunteers to build the program. Members also are seeking to spread the word about available assistance to those who need it.

Bennekamper joked she knows there are plenty of eager chain saw-wielding community members out there to appeal to. ''We'll certainly help them keep busy,'' she quipped.

Both Wildes and Bennekamper are residents of Cumberland and say they enjoy burning wood. ''I wouldn't live in Maine without a wood stove,'' said Bennekamper. ''It's a deep warmth.''

''I use it as my primary heat source as much as I can,'' said Wildes. ''It's a lot of work, but it's satisfying; wood is just a better heat.''

To find out more about the wood bank, whether it's to donate labor or material or to apply for firewood, contact the Cumberland Congregational Church at 829-3419.

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