St. Augustine wrote in his Confessions that “one loving heart sets another on fire.” The Knights of Columbus councils featured here, among many others, are motivated by charity to literally keep fires burning. In some cases, woodchopping councils cut and deliver firewood directly to people who rely on it for heating their homes. Others process and sell firewood to raise funds for parish ministries, food banks, scholarships and other charitable causes. In either case, thousands of volunteer hours contributed by these Knights have greatly impacted their communities.
Pete Tysdal (not pictured), a member of Teller County Council 625 in Woodland Park, Colo., began collecting dead trees and cutting them up for people in need in 1997. His work has since expanded into a program called “Pete’s Place,” and the donations it receives from Teller County landowners fill the yard of the local fire district. Dozens of volunteers, mostly Knights from Council 625, gather, cut and split the wood and then deliver it to people’s homes. Many recipients rely on wood-burning stoves due to the expense of gas or electric heat, and the free fuel provides much-needed relief. “When we make deliveries,” said Tysdal, “a family sometimes tells us that they will be warm that night. And that takes your heart into a new place.”
Members of Fenton Assembly 2031 in Fenton, Mich., were searching for a new way to raise money when they began cutting wood at a brother Knight’s farm more than two decades ago. Now, they operate two sites from which they sell about $48,000 in firewood a year to a nearby resort and a base of loyal customers. As many as 30 Knights attend the bi-weekly sessions to chop and bundle wood — an occasion for fraternity and charity alike. “We’ve become lifelong friends who share humor, opinions and advice — and a pledge of helping others,” said project chairman Richard Raleigh. With its firewood funds, the assembly is able to support the ministries of three parishes and make donations to numerous charitable and patriotic organizations.
Opportunity knocked for Mary Queen of Peace Council 9657 in Crosslake, Minn., when a nearby campground ran out of wood in the late 1990s. Its staff asked the pastor of Immaculate Heart Parish in Crosslake to sell them some firewood, and the pastor assigned the task to a group of parishioners, most of them Knights. The fundraiser eventually became a council project that now makes up to $40,000 a year for charitable causes, including local food banks, pro-life groups and seminarian education. These days, 15 to 20 Knights gather once a week from April to November to process and deliver firewood. The work, said Grand Knight Paul McConville, is uniquely satisfying. “On the one hand, there’s this holy fraternity we have working together on the ‘wood hill,’” he explained, “but we also are doing something for people in need.”
Members of St. Anne de Beaupre Council 3157 in Grants Pass, Ore., have been selling wood and donating the proceeds for the past 10 years, but their work took on greater importance during the COVID-19 pandemic. The $5,700 the council earned from firewood last year made up for other fundraisers that had to be canceled due to pandemic restrictions. Wood donations come from St. Anne parishioners and the nearby St. Rita Retreat Center, and Knights do everything from dropping trees and cutting them into rounds to delivering cords to customers. The money they raise supports local veterans, pro-life causes, youth activities and other nonprofits. With increased income from firewood sales, Past Grand Knight Dave Shankland said, “We can say ‘yes’ more to charities and those in need.”
In Colbert, Wash., a rural community in the eastern part of the state, most residents heat their homes exclusively with wood. When the Knights of St. Joseph Council 8872 in Colbert heard that firewood was a frequent request at a local resource center, they decided to form a free firewood program. “We saw a need and banded together to fill it,” explained Deputy Grand Knight Chris Boza. As it happened, many council members had trees on their property that had been killed by beetles, meaning they were destined to be burned in a slash pile. Now there was a higher purpose to serve. Since 2012, the program has assisted 20 to 40 families each winter.
For more than 15 years, members of Blessed Sacrament Council 13452 in Midland, Mich., have collected and distributed firewood to help struggling households stay warm. The donations last throughout the season, saving the recipients an estimated $200 a month in heating bills. Council members receive referrals from local parishes and mental health organizations but have special consideration for cancer patients. The ministry, which serves 10 to 15 families each year, makes an immediate impact. One recipient told Past Grand Knight David Rupp that she had been trying to decide whether to spend her last $40 on food or fuel before the Knights called to drop off some wood. “Our program gives these families the opportunity to spend their money on other necessities,” Rupp said.
ELISHA VALLADARES-CORMIER is associate editor of Columbia.
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