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Orr honored with service award

Peterborough man champions wood bank

Jim Orr at Peterborough wood bank
(Staff photo by Dave Anderson)

Jim Orr at Peterborough wood bank (Staff photo by Dave Anderson) Purchase photo reprints at Photo Finder »

PETERBOROUGH — Jim Orr just loves to gather, cut, split and stack firewood. He also likes to give it away.

For the past two years, Orr, a 77-year-old resident of Peterborough, has been running a wood bank based at the River Center, where he arranges deliveries for families in need of a little extra cordwood to see them through the winter. This season, the program gave away about 30 cords of dry, split wood, much of which Orr delivered personally.

“I like doing the work myself,” Orr said last week. “I enjoy finding wood, working to cut and stack it and I love working with the volunteers who help.”

For his efforts, Orr is being honored this spring with the Joseph D. Vaughan Award, given by two organizations — the State Committee on Aging and EngAGING NH — to recognize people over the age of 60 who have shown outstanding leadership as a volunteer on behalf of older residents of the state. Orr, who is the Vaughn Award winner for Hillsborough County this year, will receive the award at a ceremony in Concord on May 5.

Orr was recommended for the award by Margaret Nelson, the River Center’s executive director, who cited his dedication in her nomination letter, which she wrote midway through the heating season.

“Since September 2013, Jim has worked with 73 volunteers,” Nelson wrote, “They have cut, split, hauled, stacked 40 cords of wood and delivered 24 cords, one-quarter to one-half cord at a time. Jim has been involved with almost every stick that has gone through this process. He has worked with court ordered community service teens, church groups, Dublin School and Keene State College students and staff, and a number of individuals and families interested in volunteering.”

Nelson said last week that Orr is a frequent visitor to the wood shed in the parking lot behind the River Center.

“He’s here working all year long,” she said. “I joke that we’re his personal fitness plan. Jim’s put in untold hours doing this work.”

Nelson said the River Center’s program is intended to be a supplement for people who need assistance getting through the winter. They apply through New Hampshire’s Fuel Assistance Program, which most local residents can do at the River Center. Nelson said the process isn’t complicated, and many people qualify for financial assistance to help them with their fuel costs.

Nelson said the state’s fuel assistance coordinators will also sometimes find that people don’t qualify for assistance but are still in need.

“They tell me, ‘Yes, these people need some wood now.’ That’s all we need to know,” Nelson said.

The River Center wood bank is meant to be supplemental, giving people about a half cord at a time to help them get through the winter.

Orr is retired but he keeps busy working for a research company from Maryland, interviewing people about health-related issues. The wood bank project dovetails nicely with his flexible work schedule. He spends quite a bit of time searching for sources of donated wood. He’s also recruited a cadre of volunteers, people with trucks to help with pickups and deliveries and workers with strong backs to cut, split stack and move wood, both in the field and at the wood bank.

Nelson said Orr’s volunteer effort inspires others.

“It is wonderful to see Jim, at 77, working side by side with teenagers working up a sweat splitting and stacking fire wood to be used by families in need,” Nelson wrote in her nomination letter. “Responsibility, hard work and dependability are learned by working with Jim.”

Right now, Orr’s working with a stockpile of wood that’s being held near the spillway at MacDowell Dam.

“It’s been cut and held in place, all ready to be split and delivered,” he said. Some of that wood might be delivered directly to people’s homes and some may be moved to the wood bank.

“Jim has his sources, and he creates sources,” Nelson said. “I believe that if a tree falls in anyone’s yard, Jim hears it and he comes knocking on the door. He puts in a lot of time and effort. And it’s really making a difference.”

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