“Chopping wood, stacking it, picking it up, putting it in a truck and delivering it to a family and [seeing] the joy they have and the gratitude they have when you’re able to help them out with something — it offers a piece that really we miss sometimes in school,” Friend said.
Added Riley: “It’s easy to get caught up on the intellectual, and this is very practical.”
Highlighting the idea that the work is a physical form of ministry — and not just dudes swinging axes — is important to Riley. He’s carved out a sort of figurative representation to demonstrate just how effective Project Warm is when it comes to spreading warmth.
Per loose estimates, a single piece of wood can heat 10 bowls of soup. Given the above total of lumber that has been chopped by the seminarian initiative, Riley estimates the group has diced up enough wood to heat 55,250 bowls. Project Warm has delivered its product to 15 families in 2019.
Seminarian Conrad Jaconette, left, and Craig Wilmes of Evansville, right, watch as seminarian Caleb Scherzinger catches a piece of firewood in the wood lot on Nov. 2. “The wood lot is a bonding experience,” said Project Warm manager Joe Friend.
One of them lives in Jasper. Struggling under the weight of medical bills for various surgeries and procedures, the timber from Project Warm allows the husband and wife to use a wood burning stove that keeps their utility bill low in the winter. If they had to use only their furnace, “we’d have $500 electric bills,” said the husband. “So, it saves that much.”
Community participation has waned in recent years, and the managers hope this story will lead more people to Project Warm. The organization would like to work with 15 to 20 families each winter season.
“We think that’s something we can rebuild,” Braun said of their customer base. “Because we know there’s people in the area that need it. So if they know, then we can help them.”
St. Meinrad owns much of the forest that surrounds its Spencer County campus, and Riley said Project Warm cares for the forest by responsibly clearing trees that are dying or have already fallen over, as well as the underbrush. This mitigates the danger of forest fires and other potential issues.