A state program that taps one of Vermont's most abundant natural resources to help low-income families will keep the home fires burning for about 500 households this winter, state officials said Tuesday.
Wood Warms, a partnership between the state government and nine community organizations, provided more than 1,400 cords of wood _ or about $350,000 worth _ since last fall through cut-it-yourself lots on state land and by delivering wood to nonprofits to be split into logs and delivered to people in need.
"Here in Vermont, there are some things we have in abundance: One is natural resources like the wood on our state lands, the other is people ... who are willing to come out and help their neighbors," said Fred Kenney, firewood ministry coordinator for the Community Alliance Church in Hinesburg, which provided 18 families with firewood through the program.
"The Wood Warms partnership puts these two things together and works with our strengths to meet a need, without taking resources from other important programs," said Kenney, who works for the state.
Forests cover more than three-quarters of Vermont.
The program, which dates to the 1970s, was resurrected late last year when heating oil prices skyrocketed. It makes trees available for cutting at 315 roadside lots, and also delivers logs to the community agencies, which then call on volunteers to split them and make arrangements for delivery.
To qualify for the deliveries, a single person must have annual income of $21,672 or less; for a family of four, the cap is $44,000.
The cut-it-yourself lots aren't subject to the income requirements; they are open to anyone who pays $20 and wins a spot through a lottery system that drew about 400 applicants this year, according to Jason Gibbs, commissioner of the state Department of Forests, Parks and Recreation.
"If we were to do this entirely ourselves, it would be difficult or impossible," said Gibbs.
Community Alliance Church, working with the Champlain Valley Office of Economic Opportunity, identified 18 families in Jericho, Starksboro, Hinesburg, Huntington and New Haven and delivered the wood to them, according to Kenney.
One of those households had two parents with cancer, another had a single mother with special-needs children and another a father who was just laid off from his job, Kenney said.
"A lot of them would've not been as warm this winter, and may have gone without some other things," he said.
On Tuesday, Gov. Jim Douglas donned work gloves, blue jeans and boots to join church volunteers in loading two cords' worth of wood logs onto a trailer for delivery.
"The recession may technically be over, but it's going to be a couple more years before it feels like it. For a couple more winters, a lot of Vermonters are going to be in need," Douglas said.
Applications are still being taken for wood for this winter, according to Gibbs.