Two Salem volunteer groups are helping homes stay warm

(Left to right) Gerry, Mark and Ken are members of Salem Alliance Church who volunteer to chop, split and deliver wood to those in need.

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(Left to right) Gerry, Mark and Ken are members of Salem Alliance Church who volunteer to chop, split and deliver wood to those in need.

When temperatures dip, two local groups step up to help provide wood for those who may be struggling to stay warm.

Supplying wood to families and others in need is the Royal Order of the Red Suspenders, a service group started in 2001 by Salem Alliance Church. Also providing wood are the Woodcutters, the familiar name of those who belong to St. Joseph’s Guild, a ministry started several decades ago by St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Salem.

“I got a call from a county worker looking for wood for a co-worker,” says Ken, a long-time volunteer who prefers not to share his last name. “I directed him to the Salem Alliance RORS wood line. A couple of days later I received an email from our dispatcher. I was able to deliver a half-cord of wood and learned about her circumstances.

“She had heart bypass surgery and the cost of that surgery, even with insurance, was making finances a challenge,” he says. “Her house was prohibitively expensive to heat with her electric furnace so she was using the fireplace to warm her living area. She said that having experienced a lot of gracious people, some donated sick leave, some covered her work position, and the RORS donation of wood caused her to realize God was watching over her. She was so glad to receive the wood and be warm again.”

The Royal Order of Red Suspenders continues as an outreach to the community, helping people to survive the cold winters. The group got its name from the red suspenders given to volunteers after helping out a certain number of times, says Melanie Pfaff, community impact coordinator for Salem Alliance.

“The red suspenders are a badge of honor to those working in the ministry,” she says.

According to Pfaff, RORS maintains about 40-50 volunteers, with about 20 very active volunteers who work every week year-round, to maintain the stores of firewood available for distribution. The group benefits from about eight free storage spaces, where they can split firewood on work days, stacking it under cover so it can be seasoned and made ready to deliver the following season. The group uses chainsaws, hydraulic splitters, a conveyor belt, and multiple trucks, trailers and dump trailers to get the job done, she says.

“RORS accepts donations of oak, maple and fir when their workforce and workload allows,” Pfaff says. “If possible, they will cut up these types of wood from downed trees and remove the wood. They don’t fell trees, however.”

Occasionally, when excess wood supplies allow, RORS sells the firewood with the profit going toward the ministry.

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Ken, Lance and Craig are members of RORS, which accepts donations of oak, maple and fir when their workforce and workload allows. All of the labor and land for storage is donated.

“However, this has not been one of those years,” Pfaff says. “We get lots of grateful thank-you notes.” A recent note stated: “I just want you to know if it wasn’t for your charity and hard work, we wouldn’t be doing as well. Thank you, God bless! ‘You’re awesome’ barely covers what we feel and think about you land-dwelling angels.”

Pfaff says people let the church know when they have a need.

“We serve those who heat their homes only with wood and have a health issue, or physical inability to go get their wood, or a financial struggle buying wood for themselves,” Pfaff says. “Even with that, we are only able to deliver once per year, Oct. 1 to April 1, so that delivery is not enough to heat a home through a cold winter.”

Although the Woodcutters is a much smaller group, its heart for the needy is just as big. The organization provides about half of the firewood it receives to those in need and sells the remainder, with profits going to local charities.

The Woodcutters gather every Wednesday morning at St. Paul’s to chop firewood as well as to enjoy the fresh air and each other’s company.

“We also help with the set up and take down of the twice-annual rummage sale St. Paul’s has,” says Gary Brandt, who joined in 2003 after retiring as an elementary teacher from the Silver Falls School District.

“St. Joseph’s Guild was started by Father Steinburg in the late 1970s or early 1980s,” Brandt says. “He saw a need in the community, had a group of men who like to work with wood, and put the two together. Some of the first members were John Porter, Al Chamberlain, Father Ward deBeck, Sam Killern, Jr., and maybe Les Green.”

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Another group in Salem, affiliated with St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, has volunteered to take on a similar task of donating firewood.

Brandt says early members split the wood by hand, but lately the group purchased a used hydraulic splitter to assist in the splitting.

“The Guild now owns two splitters,” he says. “There are now nine active members and about nine that are emeritus members that stay in contact.”

The Woodcutters receive donated wood that they cut, split and dry before storing at one of two wood lots. Just like the wood, the space is donated.

“We store all the wood on George Grabenhorst’s property,” Brandt says. The wood is “donated sometimes by church members, sometimes by neighbors or friends, and also tree services in Salem.”

The former “boss’ of the Woodcutters was Sam Skillern, Jr., Brandt says.

“Sam seemed to know everyone in Salem, and people would contact him,” he says. “Now people can call the church.”

Funds received from those who pay for the firewood go to support several Salem organizations from a list Sam Skillern III provides, and members add or subtract recipients at their annual meeting, Brandt says.

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