The objective of a new program called Warm Hearts, Warm Homes is to make sure that no one in Wallowa, Union or Baker counties goes cold this winter, at least if they have wood heat.
Coordinated by the area office of Department of Human Services, the effort to provide firewood to needy families in the three county areas is bringing together an unlikely coalition of state, federal and county agencies, truck drivers, prisoners, church groups, private landowners and volunteers.
The project is the brainchild of Marilyn Jones, DHS community development coordinator for Baker, Union and Wallowa counties, who is based in Baker City and was in Wallowa County last week to get Warm Hearts off the ground.
The ideas is to use forest slash and wood that would otherwise be burned just to get rid of it on private and public land to heat the homes of those who have a hard time affording wood to heat their homes in the winter.
"What better way to bolster the economy," Jones said. "We're trying to bring economic, social and ecological elements together, and work as a team."
Jones admitted that there isn't much of a budget for the project; in fact, it is basically funded through donations and volunteers. Donations will go to pay log truck drivers to haul wood to central locations in each county. Prisoners from the Powder River correctional facility, which has applied for a grant to fund their end of the effort, will be available to cut, chop and stack wood at the different sites.
Private landowners are asked to donate wood from slash piles, much of which is unmarketable, for which they can receive a tax deduction. Jones says that while the free firewood will probably not be of the same quality as purchased wood "it will keep you warm at no cost."
Volunteers are needed to help in a variety of ways. For example, folks with pickups can deliver chopped wood to the families that need it, or possibly help haul wood from a central location in La Grande to Wallowa County, though wood from each county will be used as close to home as possible. While prisoners will be available if they are needed, local volunteers are also needed to chop and stack wood.
Jones said that she is currently looking for an organization that would be willing to coordinate the Warm Hearts, Warm Homes distribution effort in Wallowa County. Any group interested in becoming involved is asked to call Jones at 541-1800, Ext. 403, or e-mail Marilyn.Jones@state.or.us.
Jones was pleased to report that the Wallowa County Sheriff's Office has volunteered the use of its compound to use as the local wood distribution site.
Among agencies and groups that have signed on to help in a variety of ways are Oregon Department of Forestry, Powder River Corrections, U.S. Forest Service, Baker Commission on Children and Families (acting as fiscal agent), Elgin Christian Church, Community Connection in all three counties, Pioneer Bank, Community Bank, Baker County Road Department, John Michael Logging in Baker County and Department of Human Services. Both Pioneer and Community banks have so far donated $750 each to the project.
Others involved are Spence Industrial, which is donating the use of a trailer to help with the delivery of fire wood in all three counties, and Tim Gilbert of Joseph, who is serving as a point of contact for accessing materials.
A list of households who will need the firewood, including seniors, persons with disabilities and others is now being compiled. Anyone in Wallowa County who feels they will have trouble affording firewood this winter is encouraged to contact Community Connection, 426-3840.
Donations may be designated for Wallowa County if desired and sent to: Warm Hearts Warm Homes, c/o Baker Commission on Children and Families, 1995 3rd St., Baker City OR 97814; attention Judy Barzee.
Jones admits it seems a poor time to start a new program with all the budget cuts state agencies are having to make. "But what a better way to bolster the economy, while helping people. It's a win, win situation," Jones said.