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I’m with ERIE: The Gift of Warmth

Founder of Project WARM

December 7, 2009

Lou Wilson
Customer with Brogan Insurance, Roanoke, Va..

Lou Wilson,
Founder of Project WARM

Hometown: Richmond, Va.

Occupation: Retired U.S. Navy Chief Petty Officer

Where you’ve heard his name: In an effort to help those less fortunate in his area, Lou began cutting, splitting and delivering firewood to the needy in 1976. In doing so, he established Project WARM (Wood Association of Richmond Metro). The project grew over time, and in 1978, Salvation Army became involved. The current configuration has been in place since 1989 when the City of Richmond, along with the Tuckahoe and Richmond Jaycees, joined the effort. As project mentor, Lou serves as the liaison between the Jaycees, the City of Richmond and other agencies involved.
Why he got started: In 1976, Lou was watching the news and saw a segment about a young mother, a single parent, who was burning her summer clothes in an effort to provide some warmth for her children and herself. As the same time, Lou knew of trees that were filling landfills, and he thought, “I can make this better.”

Expanding the reach: Lou’s son, Marc, and his wife, Mary, were inspired by Lou’s efforts and expanded Project WARM to the Roanoke area 13 years ago. (They kept the name, and just changed the “R” in WARM to stand for Roanoke.) Where the Jaycees provide the volunteer labor for the project in Richmond, the Church of the Brethren offer their services in Roanoke. In each location, The Salvation Army verifies applicants’ need and prepares weekly delivery lists.

Now that’s reliable service: “Since 1989, over 19.5 heating seasons, we’ve never missed weekend deliveries,” Lou says. Additionally, the Roanoke Project WARM has shipped an average of 275 truckloads of firewood per year.
Warming more than just homes: “It does more than keep people warm,” Lou says. “People from all walks of life come together on equal footing. Egos and status are left at the woodlot gate. Folks who have never seen, let alone never been in, the depressed areas of their own city get a real education. A lot of people have been helped by Project WARM, but it’s also helped a lot of others pick up their own lives. Many volunteers have said Project WARM changed their lives in a most definite way.”

His Agent is part of the family: Literally. Lou’s ERIE Agent, Mary Brogan Wilson, is also his daughter-in-law. She’s a big reason Lou says, “Other companies try hard for my business, but I’m not interested in going anywhere else.” Mary’s involvement with her church was a driving force in brining Project WARM to Roanoke.

Why Erie Insurance? “While we were in Mississippi, there was a terrible flood in Wilkes-Barre, Pa.,” Lou remembers. “On TV, they showed the president and CEO of ERIE in the disaster area writing checks for everybody that had a policy. I thought right then ‘that’s the company I need to be with.’ So when we got back to Virginia, I knew I wanted Erie Insurance. After more than 24 years, my house and cars are still insured with ERIE and I see no reason to change that.”