“No one goes cold in our hood this holiday season,” McDaniel, 47, wrote in his post, offering to deliver wood, free of charge, to neighbors who needed a hand heating their homes near Lake Stevens, Wash., about 35 miles north of Seattle.
Within days, the post had spread not only in his Lake Stevens community but also to people across the country and even around the globe. Messages started flooding in — requests for firewood, offers of help, notes of thanks and even marriage proposals.
Nobody was more surprised at the huge response than McDaniel himself, a single father of six. He had logged back onto Facebook only a week earlier, posting a status update saying he hadn’t been on the site in 10 years because he “thought social media would go away by now.”
It turned out that he reached some of the neediest people in Western Washington, many who heat their home with wood only. Firewood is measured in cords — one cord is about four feet high, eight feet wide and four feet deep. In the Lake Stevens area, a cord costs about $400. The McDaniels had 40 of them.
Since early November, McDaniel and his sons have brought the wood to hundreds of people who don’t have money to heat their homes, and there’s still more wood to be delivered.
Single mom Katelyn Ticer, 28, who lives in a mobile home in Lake Stevens with her 3-year-old daughter, was thrilled to get a delivery from the McDaniels, as a wood-burning stove is her sole source of heat. McDaniel delivered a full truckload of wood, and even came back a second time with a half-load and a chimney sweep coupon.
“To get that much wood and the chimney sweep brought me to tears,” Ticer said. “So much stress and anxiety for my daughter is off my shoulders. I couldn’t be more thankful.”
McDaniel was hoping to help people like Ticer, but it wasn’t the motivation behind all the chopping initially.
As a local business owner with several rental properties to maintain, dealing with downed trees is part of the gig, and chopping firewood is a favorite — and often, mandatory — father-son pastime. Not just for McDaniel and his twins Harrison and Henry, 21, but also for McDaniel and his father, who passed away five years ago.
“I had to cut wood with my dad constantly. I was always helping him cut wood, split wood,” he said. “He just loved doing it.”
Chopping wood all summer with his sons was a way for McDaniel to feel connected to his father. By late summer, the McDaniels' house was surrounded by 40 cords of firewood, a massive wall of logs that even the McDaniel men admired.
“I started out wanting to connect with my father, and at the end, I thought he was yelling at me,” McDaniel said, laughing. “It was so much cutting, so much splitting.”
Harrison McDaniel said once the wood started piling up high, people would pull up daily and ask to buy a cord.
“We politely told them none of it was for sale, and they’d look at us like we were crazy,” he said, adding that he was surprised at how many people burn wood as their only source of heat.
For some, using a log for a fire is a winter ritual, done mostly for that cozy hygge effect. But, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, more than 12 million households in the United States use wood to generate heat, and for millions living in older homes or in off-grid rural areas, it is their only heat source. Wood-burning stoves can be more effective and economical than standard heating options, but there’s still a significant cost to firewood, including time and labor.
In early November, Lake Stevens had its first cold snap of the year, with temperatures dropping into the 20s. That’s what prompted McDaniel to hit “share” on the Facebook post, including photos of him and the boys wearing muscle shirts and wielding axes. His mission to give away all the firewood in time for the holidays had officially begun.
Abby Valentine, 42, was one of the people who responded, and she was grateful to have the wood. Making ends meet while living on a set income through disability benefits has been a struggle, she said, made worse this year after her oldest son was killed in April by a drunken driver.
“My home is really old and very cold,” said Valentine, who lives in Seattle. “With the help of the wood for my fireplace, we can cut back on using the heat. I try to save as much as I can, but if my home is way too cold I have to use it because I don’t want my kids getting sick.”
There were hundreds of requests like Valentine’s, many sad, desperate and hard on the heart to read. McDaniel started reading them himself. Then his business, the craft beer emporium Norm’s Market-Keg and Bottleshop, became the hub for firewood donations and requests. Haylie Rude, a manager at Norm’s, was enlisted to tackle the burgeoning Facebook inbox.
“One day it took 11 hours to just get all the comments to load on the post,” Rude said.
Once the McDaniels’ generosity started going viral, others in the Lake Stevens community started pitching in. Local food bank volunteers help sort through the firewood requests and make delivery lists. A company offered free chimney sweeps and inspections. A bulletin board at Norm’s is filled with donation offers, and people show up day or night to drop off truckloads of wood to add to the McDaniels’ pile.
For Henry McDaniel, his usual reply when someone asks for a delivery? “I’m working a full-time job, but if you’re available for a delivery tonight, I’ve got two hours. Let’s do it.”
Many recipients are effusive with tears and hugs and heartfelt gratitude, but Shane McDaniel said there are plenty who are not.
“Some aren’t even friendly. It’s just not in them. They are mad at the world and mad that they had to ask for help,” he said. “They just have no other option than freezing.”
He understands. He is not put off.
“Some still just say, ‘thanks … put it over there’ and walk back in their house and never say another word or even come back out,” he said. “But I’m okay with that. Giving is the reward — it has nothing to do with how well it’s received, but it’s about how much it’s needed.”
The McDaniels are on track to deliver the last of the donations before Christmas, but that’s not the end. They have their sights set on an even bigger stack of firewood next year.
With an army of volunteers, community work parties and hopefully a couple of donated log splitters, the new goal for next year is to cut 100 cords minimum. There is still so much need.
“I had no intention of doing this every year,” Shane McDaniel said. “But read through my messages, and you’ll understand.”