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  • Writer's pictureDarian Dyer

North Carolina Firewood Bank Visits

Last week, AGH staff visited three firewood banks in western North Carolina. The team was already in town attending the National Tribal Forum on Air Quality in Cherokee and decided to take some time to visit nearby grantees of the Firewood Bank Assistance Program. These site visits are encouraged by the U.S. Forest Service as a part of administering the Firewood Bank Assistance Program to check on purchased items, better comprehend the grant’s impact, and develop a deeper understanding of the heating needs of the communities the firewood banks serve. 


Recognizing the energy justice and energy equity intersections at the heart of firewood bank work continues to encourage AGH, and its partners, to seek more ways we can support low-income, rural folks in the energy transition. Whether it's working with firewood banks to increase their ability to deliver seasoned wood in order to lower air pollution, advocating for greater access to government/community resources for low-income wood stove users, or championing community-led problem solving and leadership for resiliency, AGH is excited to continue supporting firewood bank stories and work.


Pictured: Darian Dyer (AGH Policy Analyst), Pam Porter (AGH Grant Manager), Jacqueline (President and CEO of Hinton), and Ricky (core leader of their firewood bank program).


The first visit was to the Hinton Rural Life Center in Hayesville. Way down south near the Georgia state line, Hinton Rural Life Center serves as a retreat and outreach center affiliated with the United Methodist Church. Their firewood bank, serving the surrounding rural Appalachian communities, delivers 470 cords a year to around 200 homes. We arrived at the Center in the afternoon, sitting down with Jacqueline, President and CEO of Hinton, and Ricky, a core leader of their firewood bank program, in a conference room to discuss their mission before heading to their woodlot. Their understanding of the generational poverty cycles happening in their region comes through strongly as they highlight the intersections between healthy homes, heating needs, education, mental health, and community development. They know the work they are doing has the potential to interrupt these cycles. Providing heat to those that need it is only one piece of the greater puzzle, but the difference it makes can determine if a family stays warm or buys groceries for the week.


When we drive down to their woodlot, the grant’s impact is front and center. In 2022-2023, they received AGH funds to purchase two shipping containers ($3,290/each) to store their equipment and canopy roofing ($2,320) to help dry wood. Inside one of the storage containers, the conveyor ($3,995) they also purchased with funds is safely tucked away.


Because they deliver over 100 cords a year, they were also eligible for a renewal grant in 2023-2024. This second grant went towards purchasing bright safety shirts for their volunteers ($25/each), liability insurance ($1,000), and maintenance for their delivery trucks ($2,500). We also had the pleasure of touring their new “Educational Tool Barn,” a home for their Safe & Healthy Home Repair ministry.


Pictured: Left, storage containers and canopy; Middle, Ricky shows the equipment storage including the conveyor; Right, Jacqueline poses with the "Air Quality" station in their Education Tool Barn.


Hinton has plugged into all kinds of services. They deliver firewood for those qualifying for LIHEAP through their Department of Social Services, an idea AGH has long been thinking about as another income source that matches firewood banks’ mission. They have also worked closely with North Carolina State Extension to provide educational materials that hang on their storage containers. 

Pictured: The product of Hinton's collaboration with North Carolina State Extension.


The next day, we headed to Jackson County to visit two firewood banks that work in partnership. They both go by “Project F.I.R.E.” but one processes wood at a location owned by the local Department on Aging and the other processes wood at their church location. We met Matt, the Coordinator of Project F.I.R.E.  / C.A.R.E at the Jackson County Department on Aging, and Mitchell, the pastor at the Cullowhee United Methodist Church, at the Department on Aging in the morning. The rain had held off for another beautiful day of firewood bank visiting. We followed them first to the United Methodist Church location. It is uniquely placed within the Western Carolina University campus, something Pastor Mitchell says makes it much easier to recruit volunteers. It’s not uncommon for a student to stop by to help out on the way to class.  


Pictured: Matt (Coordinator of Project F.I.R.E. /C.A.R.E at the Jackson County Department on Aging), Mitchell (Pastor at the Cullowhee United Methodist Church), and Pam Porter (AGH Grant Manager) at the Cullowhee United Methodist Church location of Project F.I.R.E..


The Cullowhee location delivers 75 cords a year. Similar to many of the faith-based firewood banks that we have met and funded, giving firewood away is a unique and meaningful mission that speaks to the core tenets of their church. We head to the Department of Aging’s processing site next in Sylva. They also deliver 75 cords a year from their location.


Pictured: Viewing the Sylva location of Project F.I.R.E.


They were both funded in 2022-2023 but since they delivered less than 100 cords, they weren’t eligible for funding in 2023-2024. They’re excited that they can receive funding this year, with applications opening for renewal grants on September 1, 2024, including options for those processing less than 100 cords. They’re interested in how to get better equipment and setting up drying sheds at the church location.


Each time AGH has visited a firewood bank in the last two years, we have come away inspired and determined to continue supporting their vital community work. Each bank has cultivated their own understanding of the heating needs in their communities. Big or small, they have devoted themselves to connecting with their neighbors and doing their best to alleviate energy poverty where they live and work.


Pictured: Beautiful view from the Sylva location of Project F.I.R.E.

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rwbeggs05
3 days ago

It was great to have Pam and Darien visit Hinton and discuss the services and firewood ministry. Your support has truly enabled this ministry to serve so many in our area. You did a wonderful job telling about your visit to Hinton. I was impressed of your knowledge of Hinton prior to your visit. Thank you, Ricky B

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Ed Hultgren
Ed Hultgren
4 days ago

Loved the article. Thanks so much to you all for your efforts in helping those of us who are crazy about getting free wood to families.

Maybe we're just crazy but what ever makes folks warm is OK by me.

So grateful for the splitter we use through the grant. Wood is seasoning faster than ever!


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