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Nonprofit's local chapter ensures no child sleeps on the floor

Jim Thompson teaches Jason Lee how to construct a bunk bed in Thompson’s barn.

With 115 chapters in 39 states, the nonprofit Sleep in Heavenly Peace rallies volunteers to hand-make bunk beds for children ages three to 17 who have no bed of their own.
There are 25 new mattresses stored in Jim and Sue Thompson’s attic, but it’s not because they’re planning a massive sleepover.

Sue earlier this year became the Cedar Springs chapter president for the Twin Falls, Idaho-based nonprofit Sleep In Heavenly Peace (SHP). 

With 115 chapters in 39 states, the nonprofit rallies volunteers like Jim and Sue to hand-make bunk beds for children ages three to 17 who have no bed of their own. Requests for beds are made through SHP’s website, shpbeds.org.

And good sleep is vital. 

According to the National Sleep Foundation, the amount of sleep that children get directly impacts their overall physical and mental development.
 
A bed can impact children’s overall mental and physical health, as well as a regular sleep schedule, a relaxing bedtime routine, and sleeping in the same, dark, quiet, TV-free environment every night, which can help to curve mood swings, behavioral problems, and cognitive issues that impact their ability to learn in school.

SHP’s catchphrase is, “No kid sleeps on the floor in our town.”

It’s a slogan the Thompsons have taken to heart so deeply they’ve enlisted the help of their friends Sue and Aurene Sinnema in Rockford, who Sue refers to as her seconds in command. The Thompsons and Sinnemas also have received some volunteer support from the church the four attend: Grace Evangelical Free Church in Rockford.

Sid Sinnema, Sue Thompson, and Aurene Sinnema display the SHP brand and a small version of a bunk bed Sid built.

Kevin Reed, senior pastor of the church, said he would like to see a consortium of churches in the area rally around the Thompsons to support Sleep in Heavenly Peace with volunteers, materials, and financial donations.

“I think sometimes we as churches do things to grow our church,” adds Reed. “That’s really not the best motivation. In this case, I think the goal is to see that the kids’ needs are taken care of.”

So far, appeals for beds have not been limited to the Cedar Springs area and that’s fine with Sue. 

“We know that our starting base is within 25 miles of this house,” says Sue. “But I’ve got requests from Newaygo and all the way from Kentwood in my queue.”

SHP requires its volunteers to adhere to its stringent guidelines. All materials used must be new, including the mattresses; beds made must follow the SHP-provided pattern; no one is paid for the work they do; and all boards used to make the beds are to be cut, sanded, and stained; and boards must be 2x6, 2x4, and 1x4. The only letter marking allowed on the boards is the SHP brand that volunteers purchase.

Jim and Sid have woodworking experience, but SHP says carpentry skills are not necessary as long as a person is willing to learn.

Practically, that means volunteers can be taught how to use saws, drills, a jig, and other woodworking tools, as well as how to measure, level, and make woodcuts; sand and stain wood; and learn how to brand a bed.

Attention to detail is a must in other ways as well so a child does not suffer a splinter.

“You can’t have boards with any fringe edge,” says Sid.

Because the cost of buying stain can quickly become expensive, SHP recommends making your own by buying vinegar and putting steel wool in it and let the wool set in the vinegar for seven days.

“The steel wool disintegrates. There’s your stain,” says Sid.

The majority of beds, which cost around $300 to make, are bunk beds. They will be assembled on the site where the donation will be made.

“Typically children live in small rooms, so they don’t have a lot of space,” says Sue. “So you try to conserve space because you don’t have a lot of space.”

Sue Thompson can’t wait: their first “build” — the term SHP use for constructing a bunk bed at the location where the donation will be made — is Nov. 10.

While the Thompsons hope for the day they receive financial donations from community members, the couple has personally invested money to launch SHP in the Cedar Springs area.

In addition to purchasing the SHP brand, jigs, saws, drill presses, and other hardware have cost them $3,500. A trailer and license they purchased cost another $2,000. (Though the nonprofit does not require financial investment to volunteer, the Thompsons went all in to secure the resources necessary to regularly fill large orders).

It’s a lot to coordinate but for Sue, it’s her faith that compels her to make a difference.

“Some of the circumstances they are in include being moved to foster care and they need beds,” says Sue, “Or some parents have lost custody and, until they can get beds in their home, they can’t have their children back. They become high on my list to get beds first.

“When you’ve been in a circumstance of no money coming in, can’t make your house payment, can’t pay your medical bill, can’t do your job because it’s rained and you’re a farmer and then there’s a family emergency on top of it, you don’t ask to be in those situations,” says Sue. 

Married 52 years, Sid and Aurene raised four children during some lean times. It’s that empathy for others that motivates them to their volunteer work for SHP.

“We raised four kids when we didn’t have a dime to our name,” says Sid. “But we always had groceries. We always had a roof over our heads ... Now we have four children and they’re all in the world as productive citizens making their mark."

It's this consistent access to resources that, for Sue, make a huge difference. “How will the kids know if they don’t receive love from somebody who truly cares?”

This article is part of Michigan Nightlight, a series of stories about the programs and people that positively impact the lives of Michigan kids. It is made possible with funding from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. Read more in the series here.

Photos courtesy of Sleep in Heavenly Peace.
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