New River Nonprofit That Builds Beds for Kids Needs Help

By Ashley Spinks Dugan

March 3, 2021

Christiansburg chapter of Sleep in Heavenly Peace runs out of supplies.

CHRISTIANSBURG – “No kid sleeps on the floor in our town.” That’s the motto of the national nonprofit Sleep in Heavenly Peace (SHP). But it’s also Paul Mele’s personal mission for Virginia’s New River Valley.

Mele is president of the Christiansburg-based chapter of Sleep in Heavenly Peace, an organization that provides free beds, mattresses, sheets, comforters and pillows to kids in need. Since August 2020, the local SHP outpost has constructed more than 100 beds for area children. But now, the nonprofit is out of materials. Mele said during a March 2 interview that SHP has 29 kids on its waitlist for new beds. But it has zero to give away.

Group Inundated with Bed Requests

The New River Valley chapter of Sleep in Heavenly Peace serves Montgomery County, Pulaski County and the City of Radford in Southwest Virginia, Mele said. For several months, the organization has received “a pretty steady stream of requests,” with its waitlist peaking at around 50 kids back in October. 

SHP primarily advertises its services in Facebook-based community groups, Mele explained, and that modest outreach is enough to keep the chapter’s 20 members busy. Mele said he’s considered listing SHP in social services directories or otherwise promoting the nonprofit’s work. But he fears the group will become even less capable of meeting community demand. “We’ll swell to 120-140 people on the waiting list. People are going to get disillusioned,” he said, if they ask for help and don’t receive it. 

Lots of requests for beds have come in since the COVID-19 pandemic began, Mele said. The pandemic and recent winter weather have complicated SHP’s efforts to hold Build Days.

The Christiansburg chapter “doesn’t have a home,” in Mele’s words. It is currently on the hunt for a physical location where it can host bed-building volunteer events indoors. Ideally, Mele said on the group’s Facebook page, the group hopes to find between 3,000 and 4,000 square feet of commercial space. Right now, the organization often hosts Build Days in parking lots, and must shut down during inclement weather.

New River Community Answers the Call

Mele put out the call on Facebook that SHP was out of beds last Friday. By Sunday, he said, the local TV news station WSLS had broadcast a story about the situation. Donations to Sleep in Heavenly Peace immediately began flowing in. “We have been very blessed in the last 48 hours with cash donations,” Mele said on Tuesday. “Very blessed. But I’ve got to find people to build the beds now.” 

That’s how SHP works. The nonprofit provides the tools, supervision and bedding material to accompany the new bed. The national organization has a standard template for how the beds should be constructed, Mele explained. Local chapters, like the one in Christiansburg, recruit corporate sponsors to cover the cost of materials and to provide volunteers. Beds cost $200 each and require one volunteer per bed. Volunteers can be employees of the sponsor company, members of a local church group or brothers at a nearby fraternity, for example.

Then, usually on a Saturday morning, SHP sets up shop in a convenient location and creates an assembly line. Mele said a local lumber company recently volunteered to shut down for the day, providing its building and its seven employees for a Build Day. 

In the past, the New River Valley chapter has been sponsored by the Christiansburg Lowe’s, Mele said. Volunteers have come from Virginia Tech and regional churches.

On Dec. 7, the group shared on Facebook that with the help of community members, it had delivered 31 beds in the past 22 days.

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Children Need Beds

Around 15% of children in the United States currently live in poverty. Many of those children likely lack a proper place to sleep. According to data gathered by SHP, 2-3% of American children are without beds. 

The benefits of ensuring children get a good night’s sleep, Mele said, are “indisputable.” He added, “It’s not only healthy for the child; it’s healthy for the cohesiveness and well-being of the family as a whole. No parent feels good…when their child has to sleep on the floor.”

Sleep is important to children’s growth, heart health, weight control and ability to learn, among other things. 

That’s why children rotating nights on a recliner or the floor, as Mele has seen them do, is dangerous. A lack of sleep can cause more than a grouchy mood. Referring to children without beds, Mele said, “That’s just not right, and that shouldn’t be happening in our community.” Mitigating that problem, he said, is what the group is working toward. But more than just building beds, Mele said SHP is also “trying to build a community of purpose.” 

Those who would like to be part of that community can do so by donating money, materials or time, Mele said. “We’re never going to get to zero (requests), I understand that,” he said, since anyone can request a bed and the New River Valley has a lot of need. “But it would sure be great,” he added, to eliminate the group’s waitlist during upcoming Build Days in March and April. The next event is March 27. You can learn more, request a bed for your family or donate to SHP online

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