Cassandra Lucas loads free firewood into the back of her vehicle at the Waldo County Woodshed in Searsmont in February 2017. The free wood is in high demand as many Mainers struggle with high energy costs. Credit: Ashley L. Conti / BDN

Waldo County’s only wood bank has distributed more than double the amount of wood to people in need compared with this time last year.

The Waldo County Woodshed opened its doors for the 2022-23 season in late October. By this Saturday, it’ll have distributed at least 112 cords of wood – far surpassing the 54 cords it had distributed by this time last year and quickly nearing the 182 cords it distributed in the entire 2021-22 season.

Sonja Twombly, a volunteer with the woodshed, said that while the demand for the woodshed’s services has grown every year since it launched in 2015, this year’s growth is different.

“Our goal is to give wood out to every single person that needs it. But at some point, we’re going to hit a point where we don’t have wood available,” Twombly said.

Winters have become more expensive for Mainers with  rising costs of heating oil and propane. Some who previously relied on oil have returned to alternatives like firewood.

The Waldo County Woodshed launched in 2015 to give wood to anyone in need in the area. Last year, as oil prices began to spike, the woodshed saw demand increase beyond its regular growth. That’s continued as fuel and other living costs have continued to rise.

Carol Browning (from left), Bob MacGregor, and Bob Hall load wood into wheelbarrows at the Waldo County Woodshed in Searsmont in February 2017. The woodshed houses Waldo County’s only wood bank, which is in high demand this year. Credit: Ashley L. Conti / BDN

“A year ago, I wouldn’t have predicted where we are now,” said founder Bob MacGregor.

Twombly said in an ordinary season, she’d intake two to three new families each week with a season total of 150 clients. Since last Saturday, she has signed up 15 new families – bringing this season’s total to 163 so far.

“It’s definitely a different rate than it was in the past,” she said.

Twombly said most clients who previously relied on heating oil are telling her they can no longer keep up with the rising costs and are starting to use their wood stoves or fireplaces again as a backup.

“What I hear from many families is that they weren’t prepared. They have a wood stove, but it’s not something they rely on to keep their families warm on a day to day basis … they don’t have the wood put aside, because they didn’t think they were going to need it,” she said.

MacGregor said that those who regularly use a wood stove simply can’t handle all of the rising costs to meet their basic needs.

The wood bank is also serving more families for longer periods of time than it normally has, Twombly said.

Johanna Cox, an 86 year old woman from Morrill, said she has been going to the woodshed since it first opened. She has used her oil heating system in the past, but began relying on firewood — and the bank’s services — when prices started shooting up.

“I don’t think I’d be able to make it without the woodshed,” Cox said. “I know a lot of people that get wood from the woodshed. They would never have heat if they didn’t have that wood.”

Woodshed volunteers are naturally worried about how long the bank’s wood supply will last, especially as temperatures drop.

“It’s gonna put a lot more pressure on us once it gets super cold,” volunteer Anne Saggese said. “We’re starting to panic a little bit that we’re not gonna have enough wood for January, February, March.”

The effects of more expensive oil is also raising costs for the wood supply chain – from cutting the wood to transporting it. According to Gov. Janet Mills’ Energy Office, the statewide average price of firewood has increased by $75 per cord in the last year. That means it’s costing the woodshed more to help this year.

Even so, volunteers will help as much as they can, she said.

“I certainly don’t want our neighbors to be worried, though. I don’t want them to have a sense of dread or panic. Our purpose is to give them a safety net in order to not feel like they’re up against the wall,” Twombly said.

Cox is very grateful for that safety net. She said volunteers always go above and beyond to make sure she and others in the community have what they need. A volunteer brought wood to her house on Thursday and stacked it perfectly in her shed, she said.

“I felt like the luckiest woman in the world,” Cox said.

The Waldo County Woodshed is now focusing on fundraising to buy more wood, calling for donations of money and tree length wood, and, of course, preparing to meet this higher demand this year and in future winters.

“We’ll take as much big wood as we can get our hands on,” Saggese said.