Marshfield community ensures no kid sleeps on the floor
Some Saturday mornings start slow and quiet, but not this one. The hum of generators and the buzz of sanders in the church parking lot is unmistakable. A big project is underway. The air is full of sawdust and the smell of fresh stain. Volunteers from all walks of life have gathered with a common goal — to build beds and meet a need for children in their community.
“When I first heard of the Sleep in Heavenly Peace (SHP) organization, I couldn’t believe this was a real thing. Were there really kids out there who needed beds?” says Alan Balmer, Marshfield SHP chapter president. The need was far greater than he realized. “We were living in Alabama at the time and a colleague of mine who volunteered had me in tears telling me story after story of kids living in really difficult situations. Some were sleeping on the ground, others on piles of clothes or mattresses on the floor.”
In 2020, Alan and his wife, Vickie, moved back home to Marshfield. He shared the idea of SHP with his pastor and soon reconnected with four other local men in his church, who caught his vision. “The five of us guys and a couple of our wives went to San Antonio to go through a two-day training process,” Alan says. “At the end of that, we knew it was something we wanted to do.”
They started their own SHP chapter in March 2021 and in July began delivering beds to foster homes and other families in need. They started out small, serving only the towns of Marshfield and Niangua. When they discovered they were able to keep up and have enough beds in inventory, they started adding a few more ZIP codes. “We now cover every ZIP code in Webster County, as well as a little of Christian, Greene and Laclede,” Alan adds.
The chapter comprises about 20 people, Alan says, but they also rely a lot on the help of local volunteers. “At our last bed build day at First Baptist Church in Marshfield, there were probably 60-plus volunteers.” It was their biggest build to date. Working as a team, they met their goal of completing 60 brand new beds. They typically meet four to five times a year to build more beds.
They set up an assembly line with tables and tools and assign people to different tasks. Volunteers sand the boards to smooth away any splinters and rough edges. From there, the lumber is carried to the drill press station. Next, the pieces are screwed together to form the headboards and bedrails and then dunked in stain.
There’s a job for everyone. Volunteers include men, women and kids. There are retirees, carpenters, building contractors, teenagers and many folks who have no previous building experience. Everyone brings different skill sets to the table. “If it were my responsibility to make sure the bed build actually happened and everything was set up and organized, it would probably never happen. I’m not even that great at building the beds,” Alan says with a laugh. “But I love going on the deliveries and talking to the people.”
During bed builds, some people drive by and apply for a bed on the spot. Others have pulled in and dropped off checks and donations.
“I came to their very second bed build day and I’ve been hooked ever since,” says Steven DeShields of Marshfield. “I’ve been to three or four build days since and they always have me doing something different.”
He’s also gotten to go out on deliveries with them occasionally. “When I saw how excited the kids were to see us, that’s what really made me want to get involved,” says Steven. “They’re usually bouncing off the walls in excitement. It can be hard to calm them down. It makes it really worth it to see the smiles on the kids’ faces.”
Once the beds are finished and loaded on the trailer, they’re ready for delivery. As requests for beds come in, Alan’s crew is quick to respond and schedule a time with each inquiring family. Sometimes the team delivers up to three evenings a week, always after the volunteers finish their day job.
Three or four SHP volunteers arrive at the recipients’ home with arms full of bedding and welcoming smiles. If there’s more than one child receiving a bed, they oftentimes assemble bunk beds for the siblings to share.
All the pieces from the build days are assembled in the kid’s bedroom. Each child receives a new bed frame, mattress, pillow, pillowcase, sheets and blankets. “We like to bring a few different options for the bedding, so the child can pick what they like,” Alan says.
Several quilting groups have donated quilts to them. “There is a men’s correctional facility in Licking who has donated quilts that the men have made,” says Alan. “There’s also an organization called Miracles for Margaret that donates blankets in memory of their daughter. It’s really amazing. We love giving out these comfort blankets and folding them at the end of the bed. The child may want an extra blanket, especially this time of year.”
The Marshfield chapter delivered more than 200 beds in just over a year. When word got out, people started donating. “The community has been so supportive,” Alan says, noting they’ve received grants and donations from individuals, businesses, Webster Electric Foundation, Arvest Bank, Salvation Army, TLC Student Funds and Community Foundation of the Ozarks, just to name a few. “There are several organizations who have really supported us well,” he says.
The average cost of a bed is about $250, including wood, hardware, bedding and mattress. “So many of the bed frames you buy today are made with cheap metal,” Alan adds. “Our beds are very sturdy and built to last a long time.”
To date, there are approximately a dozen Sleep in Heavenly Peace chapters in Missouri, and SHP is actively recruiting more chapters throughout the state. There are approximately 300 chapters nationwide.
“We’d love for the whole state, every city or county, to have one,” Alan says. “For those interested, the No. 1 thing I recommend is watching Mike Rowe’s ‘Returning the Favor’ interview with SHP founder Luke Mickelson. And I’d suggest having a box of Kleenex with you when you do.”
Across the country, the mission is the same. These volunteers want to ensure that no kid sleeps on the floor in their town. Joy lights up the faces of each volunteer and is mirrored in the faces of the children and families they serve. They’re building beds, but they’re also building community.
“It’s something that so many of us have taken for granted our entire lives, but the need is truly there,” Alan says. “We’re doing this because God’s been really good to us and we want to pour out those blessings on other people. I’m just grateful to be a part of it.”
This article was reprinted with permission from Rural Missouri magazine. Visit www.shpbeds.org to learn more, donate, volunteer or apply for a bed. Alan can be reached at email@example.com. To watch the interview with Mike Rowe and Luke Michelson, visit www.mikerowe.com/2018/02/returning-the-favor-sleep-in-heavenly-peace.
Kaiser is a freelance writer from Hartville, MO.