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Donations to Wood Bank Cool

  • Thalia Ferro, 11, and Thomas Ferro, 13, of Stowe, Vt., unload firewood with Shannon Murphy, left, and Jerry Murphy, of Woodstock, right, at the home of Will Eigenbrod in Stockbridge, Vt., Thursday, August 31, 2017. The wood and delivery was free through a charity wood bank started by the Ferros' father Bryan in 1991 and now operated by their grandfather Nick Ferro, of Woodstock.(Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Will Eigenbrod, 83, talks with Shannon Murphy, of Woodstock, left, after she and four other volunteers brought a pick-up truck load of firewood from the Ferro wood bank to Eigenbrod's home in Stockbridge, Vt., Thursday, August 31, 2017. The free service provides donated firewood to those in need throughout the winter months as long as supplies allow. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.



Valley News Staff Writer
Sunday, September 03, 2017

Stockbridge, Vt.— Last year, Will Eigenbrod cut and split nine cords of wood to get his home through the long, cold Vermont winter.

This year, he had to hang up his chain saw for good.

“I’m 83,” Eigenbrod said Thursday afternoon, standing outside a home situated on 36 acres in a part of town so remote that the dirt roads look like driveways, and the driveways look like hiking trails. “When you get older, you lose strength. I have trouble walking, and I’m physically no longer able to get around in the woods.”

Eigenbrod, who graduated from high school in Woodstock in 1951, said he’s had to downscale his personal budget in the years since he retired from a successful career as a building contractor. Paying for all that wood would have been difficult for him, not least because the price of a cord of wood seems to be on an upswing this year.

This time last year, the firewood advertised in the Valley News classified section ranged between $160 and $195 per cord, but this year, most of the local sellers are asking for between $200 and $250 per cord.

Eigenbrod said his daughter told him about a program that delivers emergency firewood to those in need, and encouraged him to call the Woodstock-based Upper Valley Wood Fuel Bank. When he did, Nick Ferro, owner of Ferro Jewelers in Woodstock, picked up the phone.

On Thursday, Ferro pulled into Eigenbrod’s driveway, accompanied by a handful of WoodBank volunteers, including his two grandchildren — Thomas, 13, and Thalia, 11.

Thomas Ferro is helping to build a website for the organization, and both siblings have begun building a presence on social media.

“Don’t judge,” Ferro said. He was responding to the idea that some people don’t support the idea of social programs, like heating assistance, out of concern that some recipients are milking the system. His speech patterns are rapid, clipped and confident, reflecting his New Jersey roots. “That’s somebody judging somebody. Stop judging and just help them.”

He said the wood fuel bank typically makes a one-time delivery to help those in need through a temporary crisis. The group also helps connect families to heating assistance programs offered by the state.

Ferro pushed up the sleeves of his button-down shirt and slipped on a pair of work gloves, and the group backed a pickup truck into Eigenbrod’s garage.

They began stacking wood against the wall.

“Hey, guess what, Nick?” Shannon Murphy, a volunteer who, with her husband, Jerry, has taken a more active role in the organization in recent years. “I’m going to have an ice cream at Tozier’s,” the nearby seafood restaurant in Bethel.

“I’m buying,” Ferro replied.

He said he takes pleasure in running the wood bank, and has been delivering cords of firewood to between 12 and 40 people a year since his son began the organization in 1993.

But this year, he said, it’s been more difficult because the stream of donations the group relies on is drier than a pile of seasoned wood.

“Usually, when I send out a group of letters, we get $50, $100,” he said. “But this year, we didn’t get much response.”

Eigenbrod said he didn’t always receive charity. He used to give it. During his professional life, when he was heading up a team of about half a dozen workers, he often gave to his local Congregational Church. And every year, when his income tax refund came, he would send a check to the Salvation Army.

Back then, he said, he had a disposable income — he traveled abroad to Europe, and thought nothing of going out to dinner, or spending money on the latest rifle or other piece of sporting equipment.

But when he moved to a fixed income, he said, the lack of money was a big adjustment.

“My income stopped,” he said. “You just don’t buy anything anymore. Just the food, utility bills and gas for my vehicle.”

The last time he bought a gun was in the 1990s, he said, and the last time he traveled out of state was a few years ago, when his daughter bought him tickets to a football game in Pittsburgh for his birthday.

If Eigenbrod didn’t have the wood bank to turn to, he’d find the money to heat his home, he said, but it would be that much more difficult to make ends meet.

In the meantime, he still does what he can, volunteering to help staff the tables at the Black River Good Neighbor Services annual rummage sale in Ludlow, Vt.

Eigenbrod said he hoped people would be supportive of the Upper Valley Wood Fuel Bank and other similar programs throughout the area, if not for charitable reasons, then for self-interested ones.

Everyone has a personal stake in making sure the safety net of support is vibrant and sustainable, he said, even if they’re currently able-bodied and working.

“Your time is coming,” he said.

Matt Hongoltz-Hetling can be reached at mhonghet@vnews.com or 603-727-3211.