Winter is still a season away. But as the temperatures begin to drop, many are beginning to think about heating their homes – or, in some cases, helping their neighbors get the fuel they need.
They call it the fuel that warms you twice.
Or three times, or however many times you have to move the stuff: Firewood. But what if you run out, and you can’t afford more? Or you’re not physically able to split and stack your own? Enter REAP, the Ripton Energy Assistance Program. Since 2008, REAP has been collecting donated firewood and distributing it to Ripton residents in need.
Warren King is on the REAP steering committee. And yes, he did just say "sawing bee."
"I suspect we had 15 people the first time and maybe 12 the second time."
Firewood assistance is available through the state, and from programs like the Firewood Project, which is coordinated by the United Way of Lamoille County. In previous winters, the Bristol Energy Committee has gathered emergency firewood for families in need. REAP might be a smaller operation, but it’s no less resourceful.
So where does all of this wood come from?
"Most of it has been donated to REAP. A portion of it came from flood damage from Hurricane Irene."
Charles Billings is another REAP organizer.
"I stopped and asked the contractor who had gotten the bid if he had any wood we could have for this purpose and he said, "Sure, as long as you write me a nice note afterwards," so we got many truckloads from that."
Like the rest of the REAP steering committee, Billings has a personal connection to heating with wood.
"I grew up in Ripton. Moved away for 40-odd years and came back. When I was growing up we lived in a drafty old house, and I can remember the last week before having to go back to school, we literally had to get in something like 16 or 18 cords to make it through a winter, because that’s all we had."
If you’ve never been to Ripton, it’s in the middle of the National Forest. There’s plenty of firewood. But for some people, getting out there to split and stack just isn’t an option.
"The other thing is, I’m getting older."
Bonnie, who asked us not to use her last name, has received wood from REAP three times. She’s still strong enough to grow all of her own food. But she’s not splitting wood anymore.
"Years ago, I had a chainsaw and a husband. That made it possible for me to pretty much get my own wood."
Even though Bonnie also has a gas furnace, she’s never gotten fuel assistance from the state. And that’s what’s cool about REAP: "Qualifying" for assistance is much more personal. Here’s Warren King.
"We can exercise a little more flexibility, and we do with firewood, because we tend to know the people and know what their hardships are and what their need is."
Having that program to depend on, or fall back on, has been a life-saver, for more than just me.
Like other REAP beneficiaries, Bonnie is also a volunteer.
"Last year I helped with splitting and loading trucks and things."
Grassroots firewood assistance might be catching on. In nearby Lincoln, residents are building up a wood bank in the center of town. It’s not winter yet, but neighbors sharing firewood? Well, that’s something that warms you in a different sort of way.
Note: The Ripton Energy Assistance Program also works with the local non-profit H.O.P.E. – Helping Overcome Poverty’s Effects – to assist residents with conventional heating sources like fuel and propane. And it’s building a new woodshed with help from the Vermont Community Foundation.