If you’ve followed my blog, you know I’m pretty passionate about the firewood ministry. That passion is rooted in a couple of things, really. One, there’s an absolute need. And, two, I’m fundamentally opposed to people in this country being cold.
In recent months, I’ve spent time cutting, splitting, and stacking wood with the help of a few close friends and loved ones. I’ve also spread the word looking for people needing a bit of help keeping their home warm, while also soliciting some strong backs and warm hearts to help get it and keep it going.
After Human Services representatives for three surrounding counties failed to show any interest in helping to identify people in need of wood to heat their homes, I gave up on “civil servants.” A bit frustrated and irritated, I started to look elsewhere. And I struck GOLD when I connected with a kind soul who runs a local food pantry for the homeless.
We agreed to make our first deliveries this past Saturday, so I spent much of the day anticipating her call. When she finally called, she said she had three potential sites for delivery, but the first two would be “a little different, if you’re up to it.” I agreed that we were up for the challenge, whatever it may be, and agreed to meet early that evening.
My bride went along and helped me load some wood for our trip into the city. As we rolled into the crux of the Music City, we didn’t really have any idea what to expect – nor were we particularly focused on whatever “a little different…” may mean.
In short order, we were introduced to some of the truly harsh realities of the homeless existence. In the process, we met three wonderful human beings.
First, we went to make a delivery to Chip. Following our guide through the city streets and eventually turning into a modest neighborhood, we wound around toward the back of the development and pulled over at a very nondescript point on the side of the road. Taking armloads of wood – as much as we each could carry – we followed our guide along a narrow, dark path into the unlit woods, up a hill, through the mud and moderately thick brush, and eventually to Chip’s home – a campsite.
There, in the midst of urban sprawl and sitting between a collective blend of residential, industrial, and retail excess, sits Chip. Looking around, it’s obvious that he’s been there a while – light conversation reveals that he’s been there about two years.
Two years. In a tent. On a hill. In the middle of town. Yet overlooked.
Chip is truly grateful, yet also a bit embarrassed or shy, perhaps. He never emerged from the tent, yet he looked out of one of the “windows” and repeatedly thanked us and told us that the wood we brought would be so helpful on the cold nights ahead.
We moved on to the next stop, ending up on the edge of public property bordering a busy retail area with robust traffic volume, a couple of big-box stores, and a number of other stores and restaurants. Our guide pulled over on the shoulder of a busy secondary road and signaled for us to join her. Thinking “she must be kidding,” I pulled in behind her car.
Our drop point for this stop was right there – in plain view, along a busy secondary road. Our job was to dump the wood just over a gate so the “campsite residents” could relocate it to an area down in a creek bed area below us – out of sight and overlooked.
We learned that there are about ten people living at that particular campsite. And we had the opportunity to meet two of them – Shannon and Mark.
Shannon looks a bit like the stereotypical “All-American Girl Next Door.” Petite, cute, well dressed and well-groomed, I submit that you may never imagine that she’s homeless if you met her. Yet, she is. And she has been for just over five months.
Originally from another faraway state, she found herself stuck in Nashville after her car and all of her personal belongings were stolen off of a Nashville street. Without family and without friends, she quickly found herself living here – under a bridge in a small, park-like area of town. Overlooked.
About three months ago, Shannon got a job with a local company. She takes the bus to work every day and noted that, while it’s a two-hour ride with multiple connections, “at least it’s warm on the bus.”
Shannon relies on a network of churches for dinner each night and showers at the local women’s shelter. She chose her campsite because it’s near a 24-hour business where she can go use the restroom and drink from the water fountain at any time.
Her goal is to save enough to get off of the street and equip a modest apartment. Said differently, her goal is to have a place to live and eat indoors – and the means to support it.
Then there was Mark.
Mark is in his mid-50’s and seems to be the “leader” of the campsite of ten. When I suggested that he was the “Mayor” of the camp, he reassured me that he’s the “Governor” – not the Mayor. And, while both interesting and funny, I won’t quote him precisely, as this is intended to be a blog site suitable for family discussion.
When we first arrived, Mark was elated to see our guide and equally kind and eager to welcome us as his new friends. When he learned why we were there, he cried.
Through his crocodile tears, Mark shared his immense gratitude for our caring. He appreciated the wood, but said it meant even more to him that we care about him.
Mark said he has been praying to God for a sign that He has not forgotten him. He cried that he is “tired of being alone.” He’s overlooked.
As we chucked wood over the fence, our guide encouraged us to move along quickly. Aside from being parked in a relatively high traffic area, partially obstructing a lane of traffic, and leaving wood on potentially public land, I wasn’t sure what she was so concerned about.
In the back of my mind, I briefly contemplated the “what-ifs” of any scenario involving the arrival of inquisitive authorities. Ultimately, though, I decided that I was willing to stand before a human judge to explain work being done for The Judge. I’ll side with God’s Law over Man’s Law any day.
We finished our work and spent a bit of time talking with Shannon and Mark, though I wish we could have spent more time with them. When we parted ways, there was no doubt that our efforts were meaningful and would be of benefit to them on many cold nights ahead.
Sunday afternoon, we made our final delivery of the weekend. Driving up into the country about 45 miles outside of town, we hauled a trailer full of split hardwood down a “driveway” of sorts, across the bottom of a ravine, and up a hill to a modest trailer home tucked back in the woods.
We met Sue and her family – a high school aged son with significant challenges, a daughter in her early 20’s, and the daughter’s beautiful baby girl just barely a year old.
Sue’s story is that her husband of nearly three decades abandoned the family and left them with little or no resources. Ultimately, they found their way to this trailer in the woods and have been struggling to get by ever since.
Sue has found work, but she has a commute of almost an hour each way. Gasoline costs eat a significant portion of her income.
Likewise, the trailer is only marginally insulated, so the furnace works overtime when it’s cold. Absent a fire in the fireplace, she said the furnace struggles to keep up – on a recent night when it dipped to single-digit temperatures outside, the furnace barely maintained an indoor temperature of a chilly 61 degrees.
Sue noted that last month’s electric bill was almost $500 – hard to swallow when her net pay every two weeks only inches toward $1,000.
We stacked enough wood at Sue’s place to heat that trailer for the rest of the winter. And she was so, so grateful.
As I looked around Sue’s place, I saw good people struggling to get by. There they are – on a hill on the edge of the woods within sight of a state highway – cold, modestly fed, and most certainly overlooked.
Back in “the bubble” of my own well-healed, fortunate, and immensely blessed suburban cocoon, it was all a bit difficult to reconcile.
Inasmuch as our societal goal seems to be to “live within our means,” I wonder if that idea isn’t at least a half-bubble off plumb. Perhaps so. I wonder…how vast is the divide between that societal compromise and simply “living within our needs”?
As for me, I won’t soon forget Chip, Shannon ,Mark, or Sue – or their family and friends. God loves them. And so shall we. I hope to be able to be of service to them again.
Peace, Friends. My hope is that you will look for the overlooked. Take a moment and extend them a hand, even if only for a moment. You’ll benefit well beyond any investment you choose to make – of that, I am certain.
Keep it Lit, Y’all –
Powerful story. Wish I could have ridden along and helped. Be great if there was that kind of opportunity in Richmond
Thanks, Tim! Actually, there IS an opportunity in Richmond! My buddies at New Life UMC in Midlothian continue to grow the firewood ministry there. I will send you contact info, as I know they are always looking for help and would enjoy having you tag along sometime. Thanks again!