The words ‘thank you’ are often such a throwaway nicety that it’s striking to hear them when they actually come from the heart.

There was no doubt about the depths of gratitude felt by the steady stream of people who showed up last Wednesday morning to get a free load of firewood from Wasco County’s wood program.

“Thank God,” said Kammie Jensen of The Dalles. “Being disabled and stuff I can’t go out and cut wood.”

It took no time for about a half a cord of wood, worth about $100, to be loaded in the truck she’d borrowed. “Thank you so much,” she said with emphasis as she left.

The slick operation, in which someone was scheduled to arrive at the county lot at 10th and Walnut every 10 minutes all morning long, is the handiwork of Nicole Beaman.

She’s been working on the county’s wood program for nine years now and serves as the community work crew supervisor for Wasco County.

The wood program helps so many people in so many ways, she said.

Low-income people get free wood at the wood giveaways. (Mid-Columbia Community Action Council sends its clients there.)

Youth and adult offenders sentenced to community service fulfill their obligation by working with the wood program. They “really enjoy it because they get to give back,” she said.

The program also makes money by selling bundled firewood, with the proceeds helping youth offenders repay their restitution.

Working with the juveniles “you learn so much about their lives. You can make an impact in a lot of different ways,” Beaman said.

All the wood given out is donated. The program gives local tree services a place to dispose of the trees they fell, and community members also provide wood, plus a variety of supplies.

There are usually seven or eight giveaways every winter, and this year about 20 people are served, helping about 160 people. The program and the need it serves are both growing, Beaman said.

Gene Scherer, who works for Wasco County in maintenance, helped Beaman’s predecessor, Jack Bissett, start the program in 2005 or so. At that time, wood was taken to a burn pile at the old rock pit on Sevenmile Road.

Scherer took as much of the wood home as he could, and finally asked if it could be stored on county property at 10th and Walnut.

Wasco County Administrative Officer Tyler Stone helped get an old wood splitter fixed, which Scherer used on his own time to help get the giveaway program started.

But the program is where it is today because of Beaman, Scherer said.

Her job includes arranging pickup of wood, splitting it, stacking it — sorted by type of wood and by seasoned and unseasoned — and running the giveaways.

Helping her last Wednesday was Richard Schroeder, who was doing community service. Beaman has anywhere from one to eight people show up, with juveniles and adults serving on separate days.

They are already working on next year’s giveaway wood pile. It has to be seasoned, or left to dry out for a year, so it burns hotter and with less smoke.

She said the program welcomes donations of all kinds, including wood, tarps to cover wood, rakes and shovels. Wood cutting supplies are needed, including chainsaw chains and bar oil. To donate, call Beaman at 541-506-2660.

The ultimate goal is to get a donated trailer to haul wood in, she said.

Some of the donations are large rounds of wood, she said. “We roll them sideways (to the vehicle), bring them here and buck ‘em up.”

It’s all done with teamwork. “Teamwork makes the dream work,” she said. “That’s what makes it successful, with the crew and the community partners.”

Scherer said Beaman “obsesses about wood.”

She’s not inclined to agree at first, but then admits, “I do love the wood life. Having wood means you always have work. It keeps you warm. You get to help people. So I guess I do like wood.”

If she spots a pile of wood somewhere, she’ll think, “’I wonder if it has a home.’”

She’s even had dreams about wood splitters.

When she started, the program occupied just one bay at the old county shops, as the property at 10th and Walnut is called. Now it takes up six, with permission to expand to a seventh. Her dad fabricated a wood bundling machine for her last summer so they could start selling bundled wood.

She likes thinking of ways to make the program more efficient, practical and safe. “Safety is huge around here.” They’ve only had one accident in her nine years there.

“It’s a huge opportunity to teach youth and adults skills and teamwork,” she said.

Everything about the job suits her. She loves her “outdoor office” and helping people. She loves having goals and achieving them. She loves to work hard. She gets to see how people grow and change as they help in the program. “And I like cleanliness and organization.”

When she’s not working, she’s off volunteering. “I just like to keep busy. If I have a couple days off in a row I go nuts.”

As one woman came to get some firewood Wednesday, she had a question: “Is it dry and ready to burn?” Beaman told her it was, and the woman was momentarily speechless, before finally saying, “Wow. Seriously. That is such a blessing.”

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