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Woodworker and restaurant owner team up to support food pantry in Gulfport

Mark James created a table from a tree which fell during a hurricane. He then got help to auction it off to help a local non-profit.

GULFPORT, Fla. — Mark James, if he was pressed, would tell you his two favorite tree species are Cuban mahogany and black walnut. But, the St. Pete woodworker isn’t too picky.

“I see potential,” he said Friday morning, surrounded by dozens of varieties of wood ripe for creating new pieces of furniture. “You can make all kinds of things out of it.”

The furniture pieces he creates and posts for sale on his website are stunning. He also makes cutting boards and other desirable things out of reclaimed wood which he has grown accustomed to gathering after storms.

James started Bear Creek Custom Timber with the motto “Wood with a History”.

A tree which fell during Hurricane Irma sat on the side of his house for years. He was waiting for the right moment to turn it into something memorable. He got the idea in late 2020 to use the wood to uplift and encourage a local non-profit.

“I have a shop. I have some wood. I have the ability to make things. It wasn’t that hard of a decision,” said the Boca Ciega High School graduate. “I’m not destitute and there  are people out there who are genuinely destitute.”

LocalShops1 helps small businesses and non-profits connect in Pinellas County. James turned to LocalShops1 to help get his message out.

He turned that old tree downed by Irma into a “river table”, filled with a flowing bright green colored epoxy strip between two wooden slabs. He wanted to auction it off – with a catch. The money had to be given to a local non-profit.

“He did a nice job on it,” said John Reisebeck, the owner of Smokin’ J’s BBQ in Gulfport.

Reisebeck heard about James’ idea thanks to LocalShop1’s post on Facebook. He made the winning bid of $200 and knew exactly where to send the cash.

“Businesses helping businesses. Communities helping communities,” he said.

Reisebeck sent the money to Jax Taylor, who started a food pantry next to her café in March 2020. In less than a year, her pantry has fed over 1,000 people.

“$200 is everything,” she said. “Sometimes I cry because I know what it’s like to be hungry. No one should ever be hungry.”

That $200 donation paid for a refrigerator and food for Taylor. It directly impacted hungry families in need.

And it all started with a tree that fell down three years ago.

“I thought it was kind of cool that a local business bid on a local business to help out a local business that’s helping out people. So, I mean it kind of came full circle you know?”

Generosity is rarely regretted. That’s certainly the case for the craftsman who set the table for others.