Volunteers warm hearts by helping to heat Richmond homes

Posted at 10:07 AM, Dec 09, 2021
and last updated 2021-12-10 08:23:18-05

RICHMOND, Va. -- Bill McKelway is chopping his way through retirement. The Richmond man has an ax to grind with cold temperatures. The former Richmond Times-Dispatch journalist volunteers with Project W.A.R.M.

“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 non-profit 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.

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Kay Faries, an elementary school teacher in 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.”

At their woodlot on Richmond’s north side, volunteers collect and cut donated hardwood 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 burned 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,” Lou Wilson's widow Mary Ann Wilson said.

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Lou and Mary Ann at woodlot with WARM Heart

Wilson said her husband acted and Project W.A.R.M. (Wood Association of Richmond Metro) 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 WARM is replenishing the wood supply of Mark McQuinn.

The Vietnam veteran who lives on Richmond’s Northside 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.

If you need firewood like Mr. McQuinn you can contact Project WARM through the Salvation Army at 804-225-7470

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