What? There are kids who don’t have beds to sleep in? Really?
That’s what Alan Balmer, now a member of Marshfield Assembly of God in Marshfield, Missouri, first thought when a colleague started to tell him about Sleep in Heavenly Peace, a program that provides beds for free to kids who don’t have one.
And as Balmer has since learned, the need is far greater than he ever imagined — no matter what size the community — and the beneficiaries of the program aren’t just limited to those receiving the beds.
Balmer was working in Alabama when the company he worked for tasked him with finding worthy programs to donate to in order to help the communities the company served. He met with a colleague who was excited to tell him about Sleep in Heavenly Peace (SHP).
“When he started telling me about the number of kids who didn’t have beds — sleeping on the floor, on piles of laundry, or just on a mattress — I couldn’t believe it,” Balmer says. “Tears welled up in my eyes as he shared their stories.”
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Convinced this was something the company should support, he started the ball rolling — and then COVID hit the country. Everything shut down. People were hesitant to leave their homes, much less welcome non-family members into their homes.
“We ended up moving to Missouri and living in Marshfield to be closer to family in 2020,” Balmer says. “And one night, at 3 a.m., I woke up — wide awake — and the words ‘Sleep in Heavenly Peace’ kept going through my mind. I figured God was trying to get my attention.”
Balmer spoke to his pastor, Doug Sampley, of Marshfield Assembly of God, about the idea of starting their own chapter of SHP.
Sampley liked the idea, but recommended Balmer speak to some of the other men of the church to gauge interest. There was interest, but much like Balmer original experienced, there was some skepticism — were there really that many children in the city of roughly 7,500 and the surrounding rural area who needed a bed?
“At first, I questioned the need,” confirms Robert Williams, who now serves as the Community Engagement manager for the SHP Marshfield chapter. “I had a difficult time accepting there would be a substantial number of children without their own bed.”
Time and awareness have long since erased any doubts.
So, with Sampley’s blessing, Balmer, Williams, Tom Donovan, Carl Gore, and Terry Arndt became the founding members of SHP Marshfield chapter.
It takes faith
Balmer says that the five men traveled to San Antonio for two days of training to understand all the expectations, needs, and processes required to be an SHP chapter.
“I knew SHP was something we needed to do,” Sampley says, “even if it meant just needing to make a few beds a year.”
But before that process could begin, one of the first things the new chapter had to do was purchase the equipment — saws, sanders, drill presses, drills, blades, bits, etc. — needed to construct beds.
“Lowe’s is the national sponsor,” Balmer says. “They have a chapter start-up program where it provides $4,000 worth of credit to purchase all the tools we needed. We took advantage of that, not really knowing how we were going to pay it all back.”
But Sampley as well as the group of five men were committed to the cause, which God seemed to bless — within four months, they were able to pay the bill off. Even when they learned that SHP doesn’t permit the outreach to be officially associated with a church due to restrictions by sponsors, it didn’t deter them from going all in.
As word spread about the new SHP Marshfield Chapter and the men began to talk with community businesses and leaders, donations and grants started coming in from a local bank, a lumber yard, the electric cooperative, foundations, individuals, and even other churches in the community.
In March 2021, the SHP Marshfield Chapter launched. In May, the chapter conducted its first “bed build” day where volunteers — initially mostly all from Marshfield AG — were organized into an assembly line of workers doing specific tasks such as measuring, cutting, drilling, sanding — lots and lots of sanding — and staining. In total, the pieces for 10 beds were created that day and mattresses, blankets, pillows, sheets, and pillowcases were also purchased or donated.
“It costs about $250 in parts to build a complete bed,” Balmer explains. “But that does include ‘in kind’ donations. We receive donations of comforters from Miracles for Margaret, quilts from the Springfield Quilting Guild, as well as the correctional facility. And we have an Amazon wish list that people and businesses will just purchase something from and it gets sent directly to us.”
But as Williams notes, although costs can bring challenges, a bed makes a real difference in a child’s life.
“I believe good rest is essential to kids doing well in school, relationships, and life in general,” he states. And professionals back up Williams’ belief, repeatedly stating that proper sleep is a vital component of good health as well as mental function for kids.
Explosion of needs
Some may think 10 kids needing beds sounds about right for a relatively small, rural community. Things happen – lost income, fostering, becoming a single parent — and suddenly a solid situation devolves into a significant need.
But as word began to spread about the SHP Marshfield Chapter, more people began requesting help — and not just a smattering. In less than two years, the chapter has built, delivered, and set up 300 beds, with 50 more recently crafted for delivering later this year. The idea that there were that many kids (ages 3 to 17) in need of a bed in their area never entered the minds of Balmer or the core group of men when they first launched the chapter.
They have also found kids without beds is not just a local challenge.
“Our monthly applications are increasing,” acknowledges Williams, “but we’ve also learned that in many chapters there is a waiting list of applicants that exceed their capacity to build — in fact, we’re bringing our tools and people and going to Springfield (about 25 miles southwest of Marshfield) on May 11th to help them on a build.”
And for those concerned about this non-profit possibly lining the pockets of volunteer leaders, Balmer places that concern quickly to rest.
“For our chapter, nobody takes any money — no salary, no reimbursement for mileage,” he says. “So, every donation that comes in, 90% goes directly to purchasing items for beds, the remaining 10% (which is a far smaller percent than many non-profits) goes to the corporate entity for SHP to cover things like insurance, liability, grant writing, training of chapter volunteers, and hosting the website.”
Not religious, just Christlike
Although some may express concern that Marshfield AG can’t attach its name to the Marshfield SHP chapter, it doesn’t bother Sampley or Balmer in the least.
“By not being, for example, SHP Marshfield Assembly of God Chapter,” Balmer explains, “this has really opened the door to other churches and businesses getting involved. It has brought a sense of unity.”
Sampley, who oversees the creation of the headboards on build days and has witnessed a greater diversity (different churches and men, women, and children of all ages) in those who make up their build volunteers, agrees.
“It’s really cool to see all the variety of people who come out to help with the bed build — other denominations and sometimes not even church folks,” Sampley says. “As a pastor, I love to see the community get together and not be so concerned about the minutia between church doctrines, but instead be joined together in serving people . . . and the people of our church rally around any bed build we do and couldn’t be happier.”
More than beds
Although SHP is focused solely on providing beds, the result for Marshfield AG is that relationships have been created, goodwill and trust have been established, and the needs of the community are better known and understood.
“While making bed deliveries, we have become aware of other needs in some homes,” Balmer says, “and we’ve been able to make several home repairs and assist some families.”
Melynda Van Note, who also attends Marshfield AG, plays several significant roles in the SHP Marshfield chapter. In addition to volunteering as a sander on build days, she regularly accompanies the men who go into homes to set up the beds. Her presence provides an additional level of comfort for single mothers and she helps the children in picking out their choice of bedding that she brings with her.
But beyond that, as the director of special services for the Marshfield school district, she is able to connect families with additional community resources that can assist them in getting through times of financial difficulties.
“I love it, I mean love it,” Van Note expresses. “Talking to the moms, being able to give back — I just love giving, that’s who I am . . . and the little kids, Alan (Balmer) and Tom (Donovan) will let them ‘help’ build their own beds — the kids are just so proud that they helped . . . they don’t know me, but when we get ready to leave, they often will just run up, so happy, and say ‘I love you’ and ‘thank you.’”
Beyond the humble thankfulness of parents for the beds, perhaps the greatest immediate reward for volunteers are the stories of the reactions of the children — some watching with near disbelief, others excitedly wanting to help. Laughter, squeals, hugs, tears, and then simply just basking in the joy of having an actual bed to sleep in. As Balmer states it, it’s heartwarming and heart-wrenching at the same time.
“We have become so much more aware of the physical and spiritual needs within our community,” Balmer says. “And every home we go into, we ask if we can pray for them . . . often people break down, expressing a specific concern, and we get to pray with them. Only one person has declined our offer for prayer.”
This article was originally published at AG News.
Dan Van Veen based in Springfield, Missouri, is news editor of AG News.