Bed Brigade never gets tired of helping central Ohio children get a good night's sleep

Alan Froman
ThisWeek group
Ron Nighbert of Grove City routes side rails, headboards and footboards for beds March 4 as part of the Bed Brigade group, which operates out of St. John's Evangelical Lutheran Church, 3220 Columbus St. in Grove City. The group designs and builds beds that are distributed to families in need throughout central Ohio.

Anyone who has had a disrupted night of sleep knows what that can mean come daybreak.

"I don't know about you, but it makes me a little cranky and makes it hard to concentrate," Dean Hoover said.

Imagine the impact for a child who never gets a good night of rest because he or she doesn't have a bed, Jeff Stenerson said.

"They still have to get up and go to school, and they're still expected to perform like any other student," he said.

Stenerson is the founding director and Hoover the current director of the Bed Brigade, a group that makes and delivers 500 beds each year to families in need throughout central Ohio.

St. John's Evangelical Lutheran Church, 3220 Columbus St. in Grove City, hosts the group, but volunteers come from throughout central Ohio for the monthly bed-assembling sessions held on the first Saturday of each month.

About 75% of the twin extra-long beds the Bed Brigade delivers are used by children, Hoover said.

The delivery includes a bed and mattress, a mattress pad, sheets, a blanket and a pillow, a stuffed animal, a Bible or age-appropriate Bible story and a prayer shawl, Hoover said.

"Some of these children are literally sleeping on the floor, or on a blanket or air mattress, or maybe in a bed with three other people or adults who are staying in the house," Stenerson said.

The lack of an adequate bed can affect more than just school, Hoover said.

"We learned from a social worker at the Buckeye Ranch that a large percentage of the children who are referred to them have sleep issues," he said.

Jesse Schroeder is a trauma-impact-care specialist at the Franklin County Family and Children First Council and previously had a similar position at the Buckeye Ranch.

"It was quite common for the youth we worked with (at both the council and the Buckeye Ranch) to be dealing with sleep issues," he said.

A lack of sleep can impact anyone's emotional health, and for young people, that can result in behavioral health challenges, Schroeder said.

"Bringing a bed to a child in need can truly be life-changing," Stenerson said.

The Bed Brigade uses financial donations and grants to purchase the lumber for the bed frames and much of the bedding it uses, Hoover said.

Other material, including some bedding, is donated, he said.

Hager Cos., an Alabama manufacturer, has donated 2,000 hinges annually for the past four years, Hoover said. 

Youth groups from St. John's and other central Ohio congregations hold blanket-making parties and collect stuffed animals to donate, he said. A St. John's knitting group makes the prayer shawls. 

ODW Logistics in Grove City donates the trailers the Bed Brigade uses to transport and store mattresses and completed beds, Hoover said.

The Bed Brigade is in its ninth year.

The group was inspired by a similar project conducted by a church in Circleville, Stenerson said.

He was part of a group from St. John's who had traveled to Circleville to help assemble beds.

"I started going every Wednesday evening. I just fell in love with it," Stenerson said. "It was seeing the impact they were having. Kids who had been sleeping on the floor were receiving nice new beds."

The Circleville group was receiving requests for beds from families in the Columbus area but didn't have the resources to respond, he said.

"I prayed on it and thought this was something we could try at St. John's," Stenerson said.

A fundraising effort collected $4,000 – enough to purchase the materials needed to make 40 beds, he said.

"We were overwhelmed by that initial support," Stenerson said. "It's grown from there."

The roster of volunteers who help make and deliver the beds include members from several other congregations in Grove City and in other central Ohio communities and a number of service organizations, including Rotary Clubs from Upper Arlington, Columbus and Westerville and Columbus/Grove City Elks Lodge No. 37, Hoover said.

 "It's evolved into a group of believers coming together who believe in Jesus, but it doesn't matter what church you belong to," Stenerson said. "I think that's one of the special things about the Bed Brigade. It's not just one church or community that's involved."

The assembly process also has evolved into a well-oiled machine, he said.

"It's like an assembly line," Stenerson said.

On the Wednesday and Thursday before a Saturday assembly day, volunteers cut the wood and route the headboards, footboards and side rails.

On Saturdays, several workstations are set up to complete the assembly.

"The way we assemble them is so easy, anyone can help out," Hoover said. "We have parents who will bring their children, and they can help draw decorations on the headboards."

Dean Hoover of Bexley routes siderails, headboards and footboards for beds March 4.

On a typical Saturday, about 40 beds are completed in three hours, he said.

Beds are delivered throughout the remainder of the month, Hoover said.

The beds are made to be easily disassembled and reassembled, he said.

"A lot of families are transient, and we wanted to give them something they could take with them if they have to move," Hoover said. "We wanted to give them something they could use for years to come."

The only criterion is that a family needs a bed, Stenerson said.

Families can contact the Bed Brigade themselves, but the group also receives referrals from social agencies, clergy and community members, Hoover said.

Hoover said he can't forget one of the first times he had helped deliver a bed to a family.

"We donated a bed to a family in the Hilltop (west Columbus) with a boy who was in the seventh or eighth grade," he said. "He had been sleeping on a worn-out crib mattress with the springs poking out the side of it. Basically, he was sleeping on a hardwood floor."

Hoover said he had realized the impact the bed would have on the child's life.

"I prayed driving all the way home and told God, 'I will do this forever until you tell me to stop,'" he said. 

The reactions can vary when deliveries are made, Hoover said.

Some youngsters are so excited they eagerly help the Bed Brigade volunteers assemble the bed, he said. Others are shy and hide in the closet.

John Hargrove attends Peace Methodist Church in Pickerington and has been a Bed Brigade volunteer for about four years. He said he remembers one 6-year-old boy who couldn't contain his excitement when the Bed Brigade brought him a bed.

"We put the bed together, and he crawled right in bed, got under the covers and just had the biggest smile on his face," he said. "I can't forget the smile on his face. It's still emotional for me today."

An inspirational message is written on a footboard that was used in assembling a bed March 4.

Chuck Madison, a Reynoldsburg resident who attends Vineyard Columbus' east campus in Pickerington, said he never gets tired of seeing the reaction from youngsters.

"You'll see kids jumping up and down they're so happy," he said. "You get hugs. It's just a feeling of pure joy."

A bed might seem like an inconsequential gift but only to those who don't know what it's like not sleeping in comfort, Madison said.

"I think it's amazing that we're able to deliver 500 beds a year, but the need is so great," he said. "It's hard to imagine that less than 25 miles from where I live, there are so many families needing a bed for their children."

The COVID-19 pandemic temporarily put a halt to the Bed Brigade's work, Hoover said. The group shut down operations in March 2020 and didn't resume deliveries until July.

"We developed what we call Stop, Drop and Pray," he said. "We'll come to the home, drop off the beds and bedding with instructions and a video link, and we'll offer to pray with the family. We don't currently come into the home to help assemble the bed. The families need to do that themselves, but it's pretty easy."

At the end of each month, volunteers will enter homes to provide assistance to those in need – seniors or those too infirm to assemble the beds themselves. Hoover said.

"We're looking forward to being able to get back sometime soon to making in-home deliveries," Stenerson said.

The Bed Brigade's efforts resulted in a 2020 Community Leadership Award from Franklin County Children Services.

The plaque, which Hoover received in January 2021, reads as follows:

"You have invested time, support, and community leadership for the advancement of neighborhood services and family development."

More information about the Bed Brigade, including a link to making an online donation, is available at facebook.com/bedbrigadeGC, Hoover said.

Anyone interested in volunteering or supporting the group also could call the St. John's office on weekdays at 614-875-2314.

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