Photo: Sleep In Heavenly Peace, Alton|For The Telegraph
ALTON — Teamwork may make the dreamwork, but a group of local volunteers are making “dreams” work by building beds for kids in need.
The Alton chapter of Sleep in Heavenly Peace (SHP), a national organization geared to supplying beds for kids all over the country ages 3 to 17, already has supplied 34 beds to kids in Madison County since it got up and running earlier this year. Twenty of those beds have been built and delivered within the last 12 days.
“We’re pretty new to the area,” said Chapter President Jason Brunaugh. “We’re a 100 percent volunteer organization, so we don’t have full-time staff at any building location or office. The organization is a national organization and they started in 2012. They now have, I think, close to 300 chapters nationwide.”
With anywhere from 40 to 50 volunteers on a scheduled “build day,” the local chapter can build almost 40 beds in a three hour period. Usually held from 9 a.m. to noon on Saturday mornings, the next full build day is scheduled for Saturday, Aug. 29.
“We don’t put a number on how many we have to accomplish and we try to keep the volunteer period for about three hours max,” explained Brunaugh. “What I like to do is not burn out our volunteers and make it so that they actually want to come back and volunteer again, talk to their friends and family about coming.”
Operating in an assembly line, volunteers man different stations based on their abilities, from cutting lumber, sanding, drilling, assembling or staining. All of the building is done at the local chapter’s permanent build site at Cross Roads Court across from the Comfort in on College Avenue.
“What we do is we have all of our stations set up in our warehouse to where a 12-year-old volunteer can really fill a need and a position in the assembly line,” said Brunaugh. “The organization has really perfected the system. They have tried everything. Each chapter brings a little more experience or knowledge and they pass that on to everyone. So, when we do our training, they have everything down pat, exactly what you need to do, how you need to do it.”
To qualify for a bed, a person just needs to apply online through the organization’s main website at shpbeds.org. Anyone can apply for the child needing a bed and applicants are not required to meet any financial criteria to qualify.
“It’s a very simple application process,” said Brunaugh. “It goes to the corporate headquarters and mainly what they’re doing is making sure that we haven’t given you a bed before. They’re checking their database and really, if you haven’t received a bed before, that’s the only criteria they’re looking for. There’s nothing you have to meet. If a child needs a bed, we want to give them a bed.”
Making the bed frames for single twin beds and bunk beds by hand, SHP then purchases the mattress and bedding with donations. Each complete bunk bed has a monetary retail value of $350, for donors looking to supply a child with a complete bed.
“We handbuild the actual frame itself and then through our donations, we purchase brand new mattresses, sheet sets, pillows and blankets,” said Brunaugh. “And then we actually assemble it all on site, put the bed together, bring the kids in, hopefully give them a nice reveal and get to see the joy on their faces when they get their bed.
“It’s completely new,” he said. “We don’t allow any donations of used or slightly used items. It’s all new right out of the packaging that we open on site and put together for them.”
Brunaugh, a general contractor, was inspired to start a chapter after doing inspections for a company that managed low income housing in the area.
“I went through 300 apartment units in the Madison County area a couple of years ago and I was shocked by the living conditions of these kids,” said Brunaugh. “I’ve got young kids of my own and so seeing a child’s room with little to nothing in it — no beds, maybe not even a mattress — hit me pretty hard.”
Not wanting to turn a “blind eye” to what he saw, Brunaugh started to look at ways he could help. That’s when he reached out to the founder of Sleep in Heavenly Peace, which had recently been getting a lot of national press for their work.
“I reached out to him, and he’s a pretty good salesman, and he said I just needed to start a chapter,” said Brunaugh. “It’s really easy for me to get behind the kids because they don’t have a choice. That’s why I can do this easily and with an open heart.”
With no overhead, the Alton chapter has raised almost $20,000 to date. Raising funds through friends and family first, Brunaugh was able to purchase the necessary tools and equipment for doing the work, fund builds and purchase a trailer for transporting beds to kids’ homes. Having 10 to 15 people who volunteer on a regular basis also aids in the overall success of the operation. Because they are trained and know the different work stations, they help other volunteers during open houses on Wednesday evenings from 5 to 8 and full builds on Saturdays.
“The regular volunteers come almost every Wednesday night when I have the doors open,” said Brunaugh. They’re there to help deliver beds whenever we do that and when we have our open build days like this Saturday. Those people who are trained and know the different stations will just be helping the volunteers that just show up, never having seen anything we do. They’ll be facilitating those volunteers and making it an enjoyable experience for them.”
Because full building sessions on Saturdays with 40 or 50 volunteers weren’t really an option with the government stay at home order this past spring and subsequent restrictions, Brunaugh started holding the Wednesday evening open houses as soon as some operations were allowed to resume.
“We’ve had great success,” he said. “Every week, if I can meet one new person, that’s a great thing. So, we’ve been able to do that. We’ve grown our team, just on those Wednesday nights. Before COVID and having to stop volunteering for a while, we delivered 14 beds. Over the last month, we have started to build back up.”
Those looking to volunteer and participate in scheduled build days, should visit the chapter’s Facebook page at facebook.com/SHPAlton. To make a donation to the Alton chapter of Sleep in Heavenly Peace, visit the website at shpbeds.org or Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/SHPAlton and follow the links. Donations by check can also be sent to Sleep in Heavenly Peace, P.O. Box 394, Alton, Illinois 62002. Ninety percent of all funds donated stay in the chapter.