Ennion Williams, a Goochland Rotary Club woodchucker, preps firewood for the charity project. (Photo by Ash Daniel)
As the temperature drops in the fall, Goochland Rotary Club members warm up their chainsaws.
Knight Bowles and Lowe Lunsford of the Goochland Rotary Club head the Woodchuckers, a club project that provides free firewood to community members in need.
Club members break out chainsaws and wood-splitters in September and deliver full- and half-cords of wood through March. They will deliver the occasional load even later in spring, mostly to people who use it for heating “rather than the cosmetics of having a nice fireplace in the living room at home,” Lunsford says.
Last year, they delivered 150 free pickup truck loads of wood, the most since they began about 13 years ago.
The Woodchuckers also sell firewood, primarily to customers in Richmond and western Henrico County. Proceeds go to the Rotary foundation treasury and are used for other community projects, Lunsford says.
“It’s been a great fundraiser and service for the community,” Bowles says.
In season, six to 10 Woodchuckers meet Saturday mornings two miles west of the stoplight at U.S. 522 and state Route 6 in Goochland. Three or four of them then take chainsaws to the larger logs, and the rest split the wood.
“We have one log splitter the Rotary owns and a couple that we borrow, so we can split a big pile with eight people on a Saturday morning,” Lunsford says. “The key to success is teamwork.”
The Goochland Free Clinic and Family Services screens requests for firewood, but a spokeswoman for the clinic, Heather Salmon, says she is not aware of anyone being denied. Qualifying households must earn no more than 200 percent of the federal poverty level. Salmon says a family of four would qualify with an income of $48,500 or less.
Many older homes in Goochland County rely completely on fireplaces and wood-burning stoves for heat, and others use them as supplements to allay the cost of their electric heating sources in winter.
The Woodchuckers received 96 requests for assistance last year. This year, calls for help started coming in August, Salmon says.
There was never a grand plan behind the program.
“We kind of backed into it,” Bowles says. “People had excess logs and asked if we had a use for them.”
Says Lunsford: “Land owners in the community and developers have been very good about donating wood to us, which we can split, stack and get good and dry to deliver to customers.”
Contractor Joe Liesfeld has been a big benefactor to this year’s effort, donating wood cleared off U.S. 250 for West Broad Marketplace in Short Pump, Bowles says.
“They hauled about eight or 10 tractor-trailer loads of big logs, and we’ve got them all cut up and probably a third of it split at this point, “ he says.
The Woodchuckers prefer to deliver the wood instead of having customers pick up loads on their own. “Wood is the type of delivery where you can overdo it without realizing it,” Bowles says. “The other thing is you can mash fingers. We have had occasions where people have come to pick up wood, but we discourage it.”
Delivery is no problem, says Lunsford: “Some of these guys are retired or have a little time on their hands.“