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How a Family Photo Kept The Christmas Spirit Alive

They started to donating firewood veterans, seniors and single parents to keep warm for the holidays.

Shane McDaniel and sons (from left) Harrison, Wyatt and Henry.
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It was our picture on Facebook that started what’s become a McDaniel family Christmas tradition. My 21-year-old twins, Henry and Harrison, and me in muscle shirts posing in front of stacks of firewood, axes slung over our shoulders. 

My sons and I moved into my parents’ old house in January 2018 and had to chop down some trees. By fall we had 40 cords—a lot of wood. We knew that folks in the community burned wood for heat, so we donated it. After the first big freeze I posted the picture of Henry, Harrison and me and advertised our plans. The picture got nearly 4,000 comments and went viral. 

It also drew support from unexpected places—a company pledged free chimney sweeps for anyone who got wood; friends volunteered to help us make deliveries. Little by little our pile of wood shrunk. Along the way, the boys got some great life experience. Sometimes we’d pull up to a fancy house and wonder why they needed wood, only to meet someone inside battling cancer. We brought wood to folks who were embarrassed and acted as aloof as a coyote. Others reminisced about Christmases long ago. Meeting people in different situations taught my sons—and me—to be grateful for what we had and to have more understanding for people going through tough times. 

Offers to help kept pouring in. Those who had extra wood donated to us; those who didn’t donated time to chop. Word made its way around the world—we even appeared in a newspaper in India!

Even better, the folks reading my Facebook posts started helping one another. A 77-year-old woman in Iowa sent a letter to Lake Stevens City Hall. “I used to think it was neat when we got wood from the trees in the backyard,” she wrote, “but at my age they are a pain.” Could we cut them for her and donate the wood? I was sure the TSA wouldn’t allow me on a plane with a chainsaw. I just posted her letter and multiple people in Iowa offered to help out. 

This summer came around and we got ready for our busy season. We put out a call: “If you love chopping wood…or even if you hate chopping…” In a single day we chopped 12 trailer loads to give to veterans, seniors, single parents—anyone who didn’t have the ability or means to procure wood for heat. 

I’m still amazed at how our silly picture prompted folks to reach out to their neighbors. I’m proud of how many we’ve been able to keep warm. We hope to keep the Christmas spirit alive through chestnut-roasting season and beyond.

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