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  • Writer's pictureDarian Dyer

Profile in Compassion: Kelly Norris

Each month we will feature a “Profile in Compassion” from a firewood bank to share inspiring stories of bank leaders, volunteers, or firewood recipients. This month we feature Kelly Norris, Chair of the Clear Creek Wood Bank in Buffalo, Wyoming. Please feel free to suggest the next one!


 

What is your occupation and background/relation within the community?


I am a Forester and I lived in Buffalo, WY for almost 13 years where I was the District Forester for the Wyoming State Forestry Division. I moved to Cheyenne, Wyoming about 1 1/2 years ago for my current position, which is the Wyoming State Forester. Even though I live in Cheyenne, I am still very connected to the community of Buffalo and the Bighorn Mountains.


What made you want to get involved in starting your firewood bank?


I ran the Bread of Life Food Pantry in Buffalo, Wyoming during COVID and had read a New York Times article about how important wood banks were in the northeast (New York) and thought to myself - I know how to do this in Buffalo! I brought my idea to my friend who happens to be a logger and he said yes, I can help make this happen. We made plans to bring in a few loads off of a current timber sale and the rest just fell into place. I enlisted my husband Nick (who is an attorney) to help create a 501c3 and asked my father to help with our finances (retired banker) and we created the Oversized Heart Foundation Inc. From creating our firewood bank's design to the last rack of firewood we handed out our first year of operation - it has been the collaborative efforts of many that has made Clear Creek Wood Bank so successful, especially since my husband and I had to move away!


What motivates your work? In what ways is this work meaningful for you?


Oversized Heart Foundation Inc Board Members: Kelly Norris, Chair Nick Norris, Vice Chair and Paul Mumm, Treasurer

I truly believe the more you give, the more you get back. Communities thrive when its citizens help take care of their own. When I was a District Forester, I would get calls from elderly people (or their adult kids) who needed help finding easy places to get firewood because they physically couldn't cut down trees anymore. It made me realize there was a need and I had the skills and knowledge to bring a firewood bank to fruition. If I hadn't acted, we would still have hundreds of families in the greater Buffalo area having to choose between purchasing food or heating their homes. I love that we are using harvested trees from the Bighorns to supply our wood bank, because it proves how active management is not only a benefit to forested stands, but also to the communities and its citizens living near the Bighorns. I know we are making a difference helping some of our most vulnerable stay warm throughout Wyoming's cold winters.


What do you find most satisfying about the work you are doing?


The volunteers who show up every week to help make our wood bank a success. I also appreciate the dedication from my father and my logger friend who make sure the wood bank is operating smoothly. Just knowing how our volunteers are helping keeps me working hard in the background doing the administrative work and continuing to apply for additional funding. Recently we have created a partnership with the local private Christian School who brings their students to help us give away firewood. This excites me because it means the wood bank is providing an opportunity for youth to be outside doing meaningful physical work, while learning what it means to give back to those in need.


What’s the hardest or most frustrating?


Not living in Buffalo anymore can be hard at times. I can't just run down the road to check on the wood bank or help out during an operational time because I am about 4 hours away in Cheyenne. I try to make it up as often as I can, but it is never as much as I would like.


What's your favorite story related to firewood bank work?


Clear Creek Wood Bank volunteers, November 2023

I received a phone call after the first day we opened to give away firewood about our first patron we served. Our first patron had waited for almost an hour for us to open and happened to be a disabled veteran with a missing leg. It was exactly the type of people we were targeting to serve. He shared with our volunteers how much he needed the wood and how thankful he was that it had already been split to the size he could handle. This is what the wood bank was meant to be about, and all those who showed up on our very first day left knowing they were helping to make a difference in our community. My other favorite stories have to do with the type of vehicles that show up such as vans with bald tires and the little cars we load as much firewood into that can fit. It is also heart warming to hear the stories of the families who show up proudly giving our volunteers homemade cookies during the holidays. We always make sure to send them a thank you card for their generosity to our volunteers.


What's a piece of advice/words of wisdom you have for other people working/volunteering at firewood banks?


Clear Creek Wood Bank Board members, 2022

When all else fails, stick to your mission. There can be many highs and lows running a small non-profit that provides firewood to families. Always stay focused on meeting the needs of the families you serve while following your mission. Keep it simple, and be open to the creative ideas or solutions that can come from your volunteers, community members, and donors. I'm so proud of the wood bank because it's run through the deep commitment of many to help our most vulnerable neighbors stay warm. I am not in Buffalo running it, but rather I put my trust in a few good leaders to run the operational side while I take care of the details that need to be done administratively in the background, leveraging each of our leader's strengths.











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