Jackson County Fuel Committee: Celebrating 40 Years of Community Support

It feels like I learn something new each time I cross the threshold of the Jackson County Fuel Committee (JCFC) headquarters. 120  West 2nd Street is less than a stone’s throw from Phoenix, Oregon’s City Hall. The two story brown house is legendary in Rogue Valley activist circles. Hence, it is befitting an avant-garde organization like the JCFC calls it home.

As someone who eats, sleeps and breathes social media, the immediate change in atmosphere is the absence of the internet. The tables are covered in different sized pieces of paper. Some of these cards have typing on them. Not wordpress xerox-modern day fonts. No. Like, these cards were literally impressed by a typewriter. Several models occupy a back office.

The two desks hold phones. Not cellphones. Phones, like attached to cords that plug into a wall socket, phones.

Picture frames hold quotes from Minister Malcolm X and Dr. Martin Luther King. Definitely noteworthy inside of the Rogue Valley.

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When Bill Jennett, nicknamed “Unpaid Bill Number One”, gave me a tour of the facility and its background, I was floored by how 1980s the operation is.

I am assured a reason exist for this paper-driven strategy: Card catalogs don’t crash. I get that, however, considering the degree of smoke the Rogue Valley is enduring this fire season, I don’t know if it is wise to keep records in burnable formats.

The real reason is that the JCFC doesn’t think or act like a capitalist-based corporation.

In February 1978, the North West Seasonal Workers Association had a brilliant volunteer named Diane Reichert. She accepted the duties of Benefits Coordinator. Seeking to provide greater and greater coverage, it became known that persons were suffering from the cold due to no firewood access. Ms. Reichert could not allow this to be, especially with an abundance of wood available. An ad hoc committee was formed. Organizational experimentation occurred and by June 1978 a new organization was born: The Jackson County Fuel Committee.

The model remained the same, meaning both organizations are totally volunteer ran. Currency is not a barrier to access firewood. Those who receive services are encouraged to volunteer their time when the wood lot is open, on Wednesdays and Saturdays from 9 am – Noon.

On Sunday, August 5 the JCFC celebrated 40 years of providing firewood, payment for utility bills and consumer rate advocacy. For the eigth year in a row, the Grizzly Peak Winery hosted the Folk Music Festival from 4 pm until 8 pm. Four acts contributed their talent: Matthew Fawcett, Blades of Grass, Alice Di Micele and Jen Ambrose.

Over thirty resturants donated food to feed those who attended the festival. Over forty businesses provided support. Over 40 volunteers contributed their labor.

Three days after the event, when I walked into the headquarters, the place was abuzz. Bill offered me coffee, which I declined. Instead, I ask for the history book. I am fascinated by the idea that an all-volunteer organization can exist for 40 years. The amount of support which has to come from the community in the form of raw resources to reach such a milestone is amazing.

I spent the week prior to the Folk Musical Festival knocking doors around the Ashland High School area. I learned a lot, primarily at how transitory the area around Southern Oregon University is. Because of the brevity of time in the Rogue Valley many had not heard of JCFC and did not know what it did.

Noell Odell, who is the dominant personality I associate with JCFC because I see her doing everything, said bluntly, “Tell them to come in. Come to the woodlot. Come here [to the office]. Come see what we do. That’s the easiest way to tell them.”

The phone number is: (541)  488 – 2905.

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