Two things Maine has in abundance are trees and people interested in helping others while using power tools. The sixth annual Woodbankquet on Jan. 20 at the Congregational Church in Cumberland celebrated more than a decade of putting those two resources together to keep Mainers warm.

“Any way to participate in the Cumberland Woodbank is worthy,” said board president Dave Carlson, addressing a roomful of volunteers, donors and people who support the Woodbank.

More than 100 people attended the buffet-style dinner where $5,300 was raised for fuel assistance. This included several donations made in the name of Ted Kern, a longtime Woodbank volunteer who recently died from pancreatic cancer.

“Household tree donations are skyrocketing,” Carlson reported, adding that the Woodbank got 50 calls about downed trees after the October storm. “We couldn’t pick them all up, simply because there wasn’t enough of a volunteer base. Yet, 30 percent delivered their wood to the woodlot on their own.”

Professional tree services, including Jim’s Tree Service and Dirigo Tree Service, also offer their customers the option to donate to the Woodbank, resulting in record donations after the October storm.

The Cumberland Woodbank exists thanks to a widow who called the church in 2007 to say she had a woodstove but no furnace and was out of firewood in the middle of winter. Rev. Diane Bennekamper reached out to the congregation. Bruce Wildes, who would eventually establish the Woodbank as a nonprofit, donated some of his own firewood, collected some wood from others and got together a small group of volunteers to process four cords.

That’s the basic premise of the Cumberland Woodbank: neighbors helping neighbors, some of them with chainsaws and splitters.

“I like the volunteerism, and I like to play with all the power tools, all the big boy toys,” said John Hankinson of Cumberland.

“The Cumberland Woodbank is the oldest and arguably best run woodbank in Maine,” said Bob Seymour, a professor emeritus in forestry at the University of Maine. “And they’ve inspired others, such as the Waldo County Woodshed.”

In 2017, the Cumberland Woodbank processed 77 cords of wood, donating wood to 10 families and selling wood to 35 more. All proceeds from the sale of firewood goes to the Fuel Assistance Fund, which helps people with emergency needs for oil or propane. In 2017, those proceeds surpassed $17,000.

“If we can give them 100 gallons, it will get them over the hump,” said Rev. Bennekamper of Congregational Church, which administers the fund. “But people wait until they’re at the very end. If they know they’re going to need fuel, the sooner we can know that the better.”

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

[email protected]

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