Mark Story: Mr. Firewood
Mark Story is a busy guy. The kind of guy who will tell you that “he likes to get things done.” The kind of guy who believes that everyone deserves to be treated with respect. Just the kind of guy who would eventually become an important CSS volunteer focused on developing a sustainable model for a critical CSS resource: firewood.
About ten years ago, Mark and his wife Judy were living in Oslo, Norway, where he managed a team of international software developers. They decided to move back to the U.S. and, having learned about Eugene from a co-worker, packed up and relocated sight unseen and continued his software career. The early morning phone meetings with international teams soon took its toll and eventually he decided to quit. His college degree from Vermont was in education, and he eventually began substitute teaching in local schools.
Having family members with mental illness makes Mark and Judy acutely aware of the fragility of that population, who constitute a significant portion of the unhoused community. In addition to his teaching, Mark and Judy began to visit various homeless camps in the West Eugene area, where they offered to pick up and haul trash in his pickup. He eventually acquired a dumping trailer and continued visiting camps during the weekends, picking up trash and even preparing and serving weekend brunch from the back of his truck.
When COVID emerged in 2020 everything changed. Schools closed and Mark lost his substitute job. And, due to potential COVID risks, he stopped visiting camps. But doing nothing was not an option. Mark had some experience in the firewood business from work he had done in Vermont, so he decided to start that line of work in Eugene. “When we first began, we were delivering cart loads of wood,” Mark recalls. Over time, his production grew to hundreds of cords of wood.
The Huts that CSS provides to its community residents provide a dry, safe, and secure space. They are not wired for electricity and the heat source for each of the 14 sites is provided in the community areas by a wood burning stove. It is estimated that CSS sites require about 70-90 cords of firewood annually. Sourcing wood is a critical task.
Heather Quaas-Annsa, Director of Philanthropy at CSS, saw Mark’s Facebook ad last October and decided to reach out to him. Mark recalls receiving the call. “I spoke to Heather on a Monday and by Friday we had delivered five cords of wood,” he remembers. Mark wanted to do more. He and Heather began talking about the firewood needs at CSS over the winter months. In addition to providing wood directly from his own wood lot, Mark began assisting CSS in acquiring additional wood from homeowners and arborists that would otherwise have been disposed of, sometimes picking up and delivering wood with his own trailer.
Mark also has volunteered his time to assist CSS in creating and training a team to process the bulk wood into firewood at the CSS Eugene Mission wood facility. He is especially focused on training for the safe use and maintenance of equipment like chain saws. Groups from each CSS community meet weekly at the Mission site to cut, split, and store wood for seasoning. Mark’s training will not only make these work groups safer but also more efficient. “We are incredibly grateful that he’s willing to dedicate his time and energy to our organization,” Heather acknowledges.
These days Mark is still a very busy guy. He is back to full-time substitute teaching during the week while managing his firewood business with his son. And he continues to be focused on doing his part to assist those at-risk members of our community. “How do we treat people who are less fortunate?” he asks. And then answers his own question. “By providing safety and dignity.”
Editor’s Note: CSS is again building capacity to collect firewood from people’s wood lots. We can once again get crews out to wood lots to collect downed wood to supply firewood for the camps.
If you have firewood for pickup (including downed wood for collection), please contact headquarters by calling 541-683-0836 Monday through Friday between 1 pm and 4 pm.