Virginia volunteers warm hearts by helping to heat homes

Project WARM
Posted at 12:20 PM, Dec 10, 2021

RICHMOND, Va. — Bill McKelway is chopping his way through retirement. The local man has an ax to grind with cold temperatures.

The former Richmond Times-Dispatch journalist volunteers with Project W.A.R.M. — Wood Association of Richmond Metro.

"I look forward to it every Saturday. I come out here every week and whack away," McKelway said. "It keeps you off the couch."

The nonprofit helps the less fortunate by delivering free firewood during the winter months.

"You feel like you're doing a little something to help. Most of our customers are retired. A lot of war veterans. Some injured," McKelway said.

Kay Faries, an elementary school teacher in nearby Henrico, has been volunteering with Project W.A.R.M. since 1995.

"It doesn't matter how hard things get for me. There is someone out there that needs something, and I can fulfill that need," Faries said. "Oh my goodness. The volunteers here come from all walks of life. You know we have a really good camaraderie here."

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Volunteers collect and cut donated hardwood at their wood lot on Richmond's north side year-round.

George England said the group is dedicated not only to strangers but to each other.

"The people here mostly want to give back to the community. There are at least 10 people here that I could call 24/7 and they'd say, 'What do you need?'" England said.

Since its founding 45 years ago, the organization has heated the homes and hearts of hundreds of customers.

"You certainly get a warm feeling just helping these families out," McKelway said. "They wouldn't be asking for it if they didn't need it."

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The program was the vision of the late Lou Wilson. In 1976, Wilson learned of a woman who was burning her clothes to fight the cold.

"You know, Lou always said the families that we serve are going to get the best that we have to give," said Lou Wilson's widow, Mary Ann Wilson.

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Lou and Mary Ann at woodlot with WARM Heart

Wilson said her husband acted, and Project W.A.R.M. was born.

"In giving, you really receive a whole lot more than what you're giving," she said.

After Wilson's death in 2014, volunteers vowed to carry on his mission.

"This is his legacy," Mary Ann Wilson said. "There is no question about it. I feel his spirit everywhere here."

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On this day, Project W.A.R.M. is replenishing the wood supply of Mark McQuinn. The Vietnam veteran lives on Richmond's north side and has been a customer for years. The 76-year-old who lives alone relies on the group's kindness to feed his hungry wood stove.

"It was a gift from above because I didn't know where I was going to get some from that point. But it came," McQuinn said.

McQuinn said he doesn't know what he would do without the volunteers who have a burning desire to help.

"What they are doing really says a lot for what people should be doing all over the world. Being there for one another," he said.

This story was originally published by Greg McQuade on Scripps station WTVR in Richmond, Virginia.