Pictured: Dennis Peeler and Randy Elium.
What is surely one of the largest woodpiles in Rowan County sits on land owned by Randy Elium near Granite Quarry. Elium and a group of friends have been building the woodpile for several years, preparing it for its noble purpose – keeping their neighbors in need warm in the winter.
Elium’s group and Rowan Helping Ministries have now teamed up to provide firewood to citizens who can’t afford to heat their homes. Rowan Helping Ministries will identify clients who are struggling to pay heating bills and have wood burning stoves that can provide alternate sources of heat.
Members of Elium’s fire ministry group will then contact approved clients to provide them with firewood.
“We felt like Rowan Helping Ministries would be the ideal tool for reaching the people who truly need firewood to stay warm,” Elium said. “We needed help finding the people who need it the most.”
They are looking for people like Michelle Kerns, a mother of two teenagers who has been looking for a job since May. Kerns began volunteering at Rowan Helping Ministries several months ago to stay busy while job searching. She applied for assistance with bills that were stacking up and was identified as a candidate for firewood because she has a wood burning stove in her home.
“Randy arranged for firewood to be delivered to me since I do not have a truck and they brought me enough firewood to last for months,” said Kerns, who has just been offered a job. “They are just awesome people.”
The firewood ministry is descended from the devastation created by Hurricane Hugo in 1989. Elium allowed people to dump their uprooted trees and broken limbs at his farm and then began cutting the trees into firewood to give away. More people heard about what he was doing and added to his supply. Over time, he began stoking an idea to give wood to those in financial need.
“We give Jesus the credit for blessing us with this wood,” Elium said. “You can’t out give God. The more we give, the more He returns.”
One of the first people served through the firewood ministry was Dennis Peeler, a neighbor who was badly injured in a truck wreck and could not work. Elium began taking wood to his injured neighbor that winter to help him through his tough time.
“Our friendship started over the wood,” Elium remembered. “Over time, as Dennis healed, he wanted to help me with cutting and splitting the wood and taking it to people we found who needed it. We bonded over the wood and helping each other and others.”
Over the last few years, they have found about 10 families that they provide with firewood on a regular basis. About 90% of the wood they donate is hardwood, with the rest being pine.
Along the way, Elium has picked up other people who are wood burning enthusiasts or have ties to firewood and want to help with the ministry. Patrick Miller of Mid-Carolina Construction brings him wood from trees he clears for his construction projects. Jason Sheehan of A-1 Tree Service also donates wood from trees he cuts down. Rather than dispose of the wood, Miller and Sheehan prefer to put it to good use, Elium said.
Chris Nagy goes to the farm often to help operate the wood splitting machine and stack wood. Elium’s brother Darrell donates wood and Buddy Stirewalt uses his truck to deliver firewood to recipients who can unload it. Johnny Moore of Moore Farms has hauled wood to western Rowan County to distribute to clients served at Rowan Helping Ministries’ satellite office in Mt. Ulla.
“There are a lot of good-hearted people out there who want to help others,” Elium said. “I have met so many great people who enjoy a nice wood fire or who love to work around wood and want to help us provide firewood as a way to minister to others.”
To qualify to receive firewood, you must be a Rowan County resident who is experiencing a financial crisis or a heating emergency and must have income at 150% or less of poverty. To schedule an interview for firewood assistance, call Rowan Helping ministries at 704-637-6838, ext. 106. This number is for both the Salisbury and Mt. Ulla locations.