BLAIRSVILLE, Ga. (BP) -- In the mountains of north Georgia, volunteers at Antioch Baptist Church work year-round on a unique ministry -- providing firewood to those in need.
During the recent cold snap when temperatures dropped to near zero some days, it's been more important than ever.
The ministry began when a small group of men began splitting wood and storing it in the Blairsville church's parking lot nearly 10 years ago. As one would expect, winter arrives a little earlier and lingers a little longer in the mountains than other parts of Georgia. And even though electrical and gas heat are certainly used, many still utilize wood-burning fireplaces and stoves.
Stockpiling the wood provides a constant point of contact for Antioch Baptist Church and the community. When someone needs a downed tree removed, they know where to take it. And when temperatures drop, others know where to go if they're low on money for firewood.
"We have a dedicated core group," says Paul Clark, who coordinates the ministry.
"After a few years we decided to build something to keep the wood dry and not let it mildew at the bottom of the pile," he says of the "wood corral" in which a 12-foot-high supply is kept in a structure 36 feet wide and 24 feet deep.
Members of other churches and denominations have joined in the ministry over the years, most notably First United Methodist. Clark also credits a particularly large chainsaw owned and operated by a Lutheran church member as being a significant help to the ministry.
"Our group feels good about doing this and we have a good camaraderie," he says.
Typically, wood is handed out via a "wood ticket" on the third Thursday of the month. The ticket is part of a food giveaway through Hope for the Hungry and partnership with First Redeemer Church in Cumming, Ga.
The amount of wood equals "a regular-sized pickup truck load," deacon Duane Manders says.
"People are very appreciative," he says. "It was 3 degrees here Monday morning [Jan. 1]. A lot of people around here still use wood-burning fireplaces as their only source of heat."
Some ongoing relationships have developed from the wood ministry, with people becoming regular attendees at the church, Manders says.
Are there concerns some may take undue advantage of the ministry? Sure. But leaders leave that determination to another Judge.
"We don't pick and choose who gets it," Manders says. "If people are getting it and don't need it, we let God work that out."
Although it's not unusual for axes to be utilized at the wood corral, the ministry makes use of a splitter to replenish its supply.
"One of our members, Windle Carr, died in 2011 and we dedicated an iron-and-oak splitter to him," Clark recounts. "We've been using it ever since. Quite a few people donated money in his name to help us buy it. To God be the glory, because it's holding up well."
As for where the wood comes from, Maunders says a series of storms last year provided a number of downed trees, while a local tree-cutting businessman donates now and then.
"From the time we began, we've never had a shortage of available wood to split," Clark says. "God has really blessed our needs."
Moments later, he cuts short an interview to "run down to the corral" to meet someone in need of heat.
"It's a joy when people tell us 'thank you' and it's from the bottom of their heart when they leave here with wood," Clark says quickly before hanging up.
"If they call and say they really need some, we'll load 'em up."