At its core, the Cumberland Wood Bank is a uniquely Maine example of neighbors helping neighbors.

“The Wood Bank began when I had a problem,” said the Rev. Diane Bennekamper of the Congregational Church in Cumberland. “Someone called and needed wood. Where I saw a problem, Bruce Wildes saw an opportunity.”

Property owners have fallen trees they need removed, Wildes observed, and other families need heating assistance. He decided to get some volunteers together to deliver wood to those families. Then he realized they could also sell firewood at a premium to raise money to help neighbors with an emergency need for other types of fuel delivery.

“Our mission is to not have to choose between whether to heat or whether to eat,” said Wildes, who started the Wood Bank a decade ago. “We serve everybody in a 10-mile radius who needs temporary fuel assistance or wood.”

The Wood Bankquet on Jan. 21 at the Cumberland church was a delicious Italian dinner, thanks to the volunteer efforts of chef Mike Tardiff. But it was also a fundraiser, with a talk by Portland Press Herald columnist Bill Nemitz on sniffing out fake news and a celebration of Wildes’ 10 years as chairman as he hands off that leadership role to Dave Carlson and the members of the advisory board.

Almost everybody in the room of 85 people had been involved over the years, whether they had donated, bought wood or volunteered to do some heavy lifting. Donors at the Wood Bankquet raised $5,000 toward a $15,000 goal for an operational endowment.

“Cumberland is a village, and there’s a lot of community spirit,” said Carlson. “I meet new people and reconnect with people I know.”

Almost every Saturday in spring and fall volunteers show up with their chainsaws. Other volunteers, like retirees Mary Lowery and Richard Briggs, are available to process wood during the week.

“It’s fun to be around these people, outside,” Lowery said.

Volunteer Dave Swan has contacts through his building contracting business that help the group procure wood.

“He brings it in; we spit it out,” said volunteer Don Hawkins, a recent retiree from Cumberland.

“We pay a little bit of a premium,” said Ira Hartman, who has bought wood from the nonprofit, now one of the largest wood banks in New England. “But the money they get from selling us wood is used to provide fuel to people in need.”

The Wood Bank helps 30 to 35 households a year, thanks to about 40 volunteers, including a core group of about 15 people. It is sponsored by the church, but it’s a community organization and almost all of the people receiving assistance have no affiliation with the church.

It’s also a safe group, Wildes said, proudly proclaiming that they’ve never had to call an ambulance.

“It just makes sense to me to take wood and turn it into something that helps your neighbors in need,” said board member Bill Dehais. “For me, part of what this is all about is the fellowship and knowing you’re getting a little bit of exercise and doing something really cool in the community.”

“When your child is born, you think about what kind of values you want to instill,” said Andy Seymour, who became both a father and a Wood Bank board member in recent months. “For me, it was a generous spirit.”

“I love the fact that this started with Bruce saying, ‘Yes,’ ” said volunteer Jonathan Hopps. “Look what happens when people say, ‘Yes.’ ”

For more information, go to woodbank.org.

Amy Paradysz is a freelance writer and photographer from Scarborough. She can be reached at:

[email protected]


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