Firewood and good old-fashioned sweat equity keep Waldo county families warm this winter

Free firewood for families who need it; no pre-qualifications apply
Tue, 12/17/2019 - 12:15pm

    SEARSMONT—Every Saturday, Bob MacGregor, founder and president of Waldo County Woodshed, can be found with other volunteers in Searsmont from 8:30 a.m. to noon, cutting, splitting and stacking wood for the benefit of other people. For the last six years, this volunteer-run, nonprofit has made sure families in Waldo county get through the winter with enough firewood to heat their homes. Last year, they gave out 170 cords worth $40,000.

    On Saturday, December 9, the group held a Wood Processing Day, a volunteer event, to make it easier for families to pick up free firewood.

    Local arborist, Travis Hamilton, of Arbor Tech, contacted MacGregor and asked him if he could use ‘a bunch of arborists with saws, splitters, tractors and trucks volunteering for a day.’

    MacGregor was thrilled.

    “We try to have several volunteer days each season, but this time, having a group of arborists who are trained in chainsaw safety come to us—that was something new,” he said. “It was a great help to have them out there working on their own without supervision.”

    Hamilton arrived with his crew of five, and 10 volunteers in all put in about six hours that Saturday sawing the wood, splitting it with three wood splitters, and stacking it into wire racks.

    “We cut as much wood as we could process,” said Hamilton, noting that some people who came to collect firewood for their families  hung around afterward to help chop and stack more wood for others.

    “People that need wood can just come and grab some in these quarter-cord bundles stacked up in these wire racks,” said Hamilton. “The idea is that if you take some wood, in return, just spend a little time fill up the rack for the next person. There’s a big pile  of loose cord wood nearby.”

    “I had a guy mention to me the other day, ‘If I only refill one rack, you’re not getting ahead; I should fill two racks,’” recalled MacGregor.  “That’s the kind of thing I like to see as we are just a bunch of volunteers ourselves. ”

    Even though there’s no pre-screening, Waldo County Woodshed has some sensible rules in place for those in need of wood to ensure that the wood distributed evenly. Those rules can be found on a pinned post on their Facebook page.

    “The most important thing is to call ahead,” said MacGregor. “We have a volunteer scheduler that takes all the phone calls and directs people to the right site on the right day. By knowing how many people to expect at each site we can make sure we have enough wood and volunteers at the sites.”

    You don’t need to qualify for anything,” said Hamilton. “It’s on the honor system. He’s not charging people; he’s not screening anyone. I think a couple people may have taken advantage of that in the past, but if someone needs wood that bad, Bob just says, ‘Go ahead and take it.’”

    “Sometimes, we have people come each week, sometimes just enough to get them through before LIHEAP kicks in, but we just want to make sure we have enough to distribute out to everybody,” said MacGregor.

    “This is the first year my crew and I volunteered,” continued Hamilton. “I would bring Bob my surplus wood from job sites. I have all the wood I can shake a stick at, literally. So, I try to give it away to people who need it, whether it’s my friends, or someone in the community.We’re a wood-rich community and people shouldn’t have to worry about staying warm. It’s important to give back, especially during the holidays. It makes us feel good that we’re able to do it.”

    MacGregor said he doesn’t want to take business away from loggers and people who sell firewood for a living, so they fund-raise to buy wood from loggers and to process it, keeping everyone in business. “We do get a little bit of wood donated, but for the most part, we just prefer to buy it from loggers whatever the going rate it,” he said.

    MacGregor isn’t looking for a lot of accolades. Formerly involved in the wood industry, he knows a lot of people who rely on wood heat as their primary source each winter.

    “I just do it because people need help and we’re able to provide it,” he said.

    Waldo County Woodshed has eight distribution sites around Waldo with Searsmont at their main yard. They will be opening another facility in Knox Count early next year at the Warren Transfer Station.

    MacGregor encourages people to volunteer if they have a few hours on a Saturday morning.

    “You don’t have to call ahead,” he said. “Just come out to Searsmont and we’ll find you something to do,” he said.

    Donations can be made online or mailed to P.O. Box 401 Belfast. for more information visit: Waldo County Woodshed.

    Kay Stephens can be reached at