Students turn fallen trees from Hurricane Michael into firewood

Firewood given to families in need this winter

By JOHN ALBINSON AND ALLISON MORROW, CNN
CNN

(CNN) - The devastation from the 2018 hurricane season, which officially ended Friday, lingers in communities across the southeast US. But in one town, a group of students found a way to turn their own misfortune into help for those in need.

When Hurricane Michael, which barreled into the Florida panhandle in October, swept over the central Virginia town of Farmville, Hampden-Sydney College was left covered in uprooted trees and debris.

While the college itself weathered the storm without significant damage, students and faculty immediately came together to clean up their campus.

Eventually, with the aid of the grounds staff, the 50 students of the all-boys college had an idea: to turn those fallen trees into firewood for families in need during the winter.

"As much as it was a challenge, [the fallen trees] also represented an opportunity to give back to the local community," said Gordon Neal, director of Communications & Marketing at the college.

That turned out to be a lot easier said than done. The work of chopping and transporting so much timber required heavy machinery the students simply didn't have.

But when a local business manager heard about the students' plan during church, he decided to lend a hand. Or rather, several hands.

Mike Stallings, the manager of construction for the Farmville office of Dominion Energy, a utility company, offered to use his own equipment to help the students. He also recruited nine of his employees.

Farmville, with a population of roughly 8,000, has a small-town community vibe, Stallings said. "A lot of my guys have personal ties with the community," he said.

Hurricane Michael killed more than 32 people across Florida, Georgia, North Carolina and Virginia, and was the strongest storm to make landfall in the continental US since 1992.

Stallings and his Dominion Energy crew spent an entire day splitting, cutting, and stacking the fallen timber, turning the campus' loss into nearly 50 loads of firewood. Churches and other volunteers distributed the firewood throughout the community.

"To be out there splitting wood, something so basic, is still so valuable for people in a trying time," said Neal, "all of the credit goes to the volunteers."

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