Twenty-two years ago, the Philomath Youth Activities Club needed to find a way to raise money to fix an important piece of equipment for youth basketball.
Selling firewood turned out to be the answer.
“We were simply trying to buy a new control panel for the middle school scoreboard for basketball and we didn’t have money for it,” PYAC’s longtime executive director, Eddie Van Vlack, said. “It was a specific project for that and I think we sold four cords of wood … enough to buy it.”
From that 2001 effort, the organization’s firewood fundraiser took off. Sales reached more than 50 cords in 2010 and nine years later surpassed 70 for the first time. In 2020 and 2021 as the pandemic raged on, orders surpassed 90.
“It really is one of those fundraisers that is kind of unique to Philomath,” Van Vlack said. “It matches our community pretty well.”
This year, it appears the project will hit 100 cords in sales.
“The program has grown so much — really since 2019 was the year it exploded,” Van Vlack said. “We started out at about four cords, we got it up to an average of about 40 to 50 and now, we’ve been at 90 to 100.”
Van Vlack believes the project will hit 100 cords this year.
With the extra sales comes extra work and project sustainability emerged as the primary concern.
PYAC received a significant boost heading into this year’s project with an eventual donation that developed following Van Vlack’s 2019 personal-use purchase at Gerber Trailer Sales in Monmouth of a Lamar Trailers model, a Texas-based manufacturer.
“I got on their website … and I noticed they had a ‘request donation’ form and so I started to fill it out,” Van Vlack said. “Then things got busy and I never finished it.”
Four or five months ago, Van Vlack remembered he hadn’t completed the form.
“I thought, well, I should finish that even though I didn’t think a company in Texas is going to have any interest in us,” Van Vlack said. “About six weeks ago, I got a call from a gentleman in Texas.”
Van Vlack admitted that at first, he thought the call was going to lead to Lamar Trailers simply offering some sort of discount. As it turned out, the company was calling to inform PYAC that it was donating a $13,000 trailer.
“About two weeks ago, I went and picked it up,” Van Vlack said, mentioning that Gerber even covered the cost of transporting the trailer to Oregon. “I think it’s 10K so it can be pulled by a half-ton pickup, bumper pull, and haul a cord of wood — it’s nice. To have a company in Texas do that, that was great.”
PYAC also recently received $40,000 in funding through a federal grant. The money went for the purchase of a 2010 Ford F-450.
“It’s a used truck with 60,000 miles on it but it feels like a Cadillac compared to the other one,” Van Vlack said. “It’s going to make it a lot more effective to be able to make the program a little bit more efficient.”
The organization had been using a 1996 GMC donated years ago — a vehicle that served the organization well but had fallen into disrepair.
“It’s great but it’s seen better days,” Van Vlack said. “That’s what we had to deliver wood other than what the volunteers provide.”
The fundraiser, especially in those earlier years, had side benefits, including the strengthening of organizational relationships.
“When you sit down at a board meeting with somebody for an hour once a month, you don’t necessarily get to know them as much as when you sit across from a wood splitter for an hour at some point in time,” he said. “So I think there’s good value in team building in that regard.”
In recent years as a lot of primary volunteers have grown older and are not as involved, PYAC found itself forced to make a decision with the process becoming more of a challenge.
The project’s equipment needs received a major boost in 2020 just as the organization was adjusting to the realities of a pandemic. Van Vlack said Starker Forests and Patrick Lumber contributed for the organization to be able to buy a Dyna Products wood processor.
“It saved the program because if we didn’t have it, the program would’ve died,” Van Vlack said, explaining that during that same point in time, the lone volunteer who had done 70% of the project by hand was no longer available to do the work.
“He teases me all the time — ‘yeah, you needed a $50,000 piece of equipment to replace me,’” Van Vlack laughed.
Other components of the operation were critical as well and the organizers learned quickly that it wasn’t an efficient process.
“Anytime you’re dealing with firewood, the biggest key is to try to handle the wood as little as possible,” Van Vlack said. “The more times you handle it, the less money you make and the more time it takes.”
Besides Starker, Patrick Lumber, Lamar Trailers and Dyna Products, others that have continued to contribute to the fundraising cause include Russell Watkins Trucking, R&T Logging, ShaneCo Timber, Ramco Logging, Gassner Logging, Elkhorn Timber, Hull-Oakes Lumber, Philomath Rental, Marys Peak True Value and Timber Supply.
In particular, Watkins has been instrumental as one of the primary haulers.
“He probably hauls seven, eight, nine loads a year for us and each of those, you probably figure a couple of hours so he’s put in a lot of time and resources into helping us make sure that the project is successful,” Van Vlack said.
Van Vlack is enjoying the new additions made possible through the Lamar Trailers donation and the federal grant.
“I’ve probably delivered 20 to 23 cords in the last couple of weeks and I can do it by myself now because I can back the new truck, the new trailer up and use the processor,” he said. “There’s just a lot of things we’ve done to make it a lot more efficient moving forward.”
Firewood is still available, Van Vlack said, with a primary delivery date of Sept. 30. Available packages include seasoned straight fir ($250), seasoned mix of fir, maple and alder ($300), seasoned mix of fir, maple, oak and madrone ($350) or straight hardwood of maple, oak or madrone ($400). A $25 delivery fee is added on for orders of less than two cords.
If interested, call 541-929-4040 or 541-760-3600 or email PYAC@peak.org.