Ministry provides beds to needy children in East Tennessee
By Lonnie Wilkey
JACKSBORO — If national projections hold true, thousands of children in Tennessee will go to bed tonight on something other than a bed – whether it be an air mattress on the floor, blankets or something else.
If national estimates are accurate, about two to four percent of the children in the United States do not have a bed of their own. But, cautioned Pastor Bill Arbo of First Baptist Church, Jacksboro, the number of children without a bed is probably even higher in the Appalachian areas of Tennessee, north of Knoxville.
A group of Christians in the Jacksboro area, many of them members at First Baptist Church, are doing their part to make sure that “no kid sleeps on the floor in our town.”
The men recently formed the first Tennessee chapter (Knoxville Northwest) of Sleep in Heavenly Peace (SHP), a national non-profit organization founded and based in Kimberly, Idaho. The ministry provides hand-made bunk beds to children who do not have beds of their own.
Bill Thompson, a member of First Baptist, learned about the ministry after moving to Tennessee following his retirement. Thompson investigated the ministry and made the trip to Idaho with fellow church member John Polly. While in Idaho the two men had the opportunity to go on a bed delivery.
“When you actually see kids get something they’ve never had before, it really hits home,” Thompson said. He noted the parents were crying and were overwhelmed when the beds were delivered to their home. “I had never experienced anything like that,” said Thompson, who along with Polly, are talented woodworkers.
Thompson said he knew there were children all around the state and world who needed food and clothing, but he had never thought about the need for beds.
The two men returned to Tennessee and started the state’s first SHP chapter last October. At least one other chapter has since formed in Chattanooga and others are in process of being established across the state, said Thompson, who serves as chapter president of the one in the Knoxville area.
And, lest one think it’s only a need in rural areas, that’s simply not true, Thompson said. They recently provided beds for children in Knoxville who had no place of their own to sleep.
The ministry is continuing to grow. Thompson said the major problem is helping people to overcome his original thought, “Is there a need for that here?” The answer, without reservation, is yes, Thompson said.
Since the ministry began last October, the chapter has provided about 90 beds, including 48 in Campbell County where First Baptist is located. They currently have about 58 requests for beds, and they average about five per week, Thompson noted.
The Jacksboro chapter, which has about eight core members, sponsors “builds” throughout the region, Thompson said. Normally a sponsor will agree to provide a certain number of beds. SHP schedules a day for volunteers to come on site and build the bunk beds from scratch (all materials are provided). For instance, a Knoxville television station sponsored a build earlier this summer, and approximately 49 volunteers from the area gathered in the station’s parking lot and built 20 beds in an effort billed as “Bunks Across America.”
Churches and organizations can also sponsor “builds,” Thompson said. The chapter provides the materials and tools on-site and helps to train and supervise inexperienced volunteers, many of whom learn trade skills and are able to network and build relationships with other volunteers, he added.
Each bunk (two beds) costs about $350 but includes the mattresses, pillows and linens. When the bed is delivered to a home, it is immediately ready for use, Thompson said.
An added bonus for the Jacksboro chapter has been the efforts of Nell Rinehart, a member of First Baptist, who has made 110 quilts to provide with the beds.
Though not a ministry of the church, Arbo, who has helped build beds, said SHP has been good for the community and the volunteers, many of them who are from First Baptist. “We have seen believers and non-believers working together,” the pastor said. “It has opened doors to build relationships and opened doors for sharing the gospel,” he added.
Thompson noted that if opportunities (to talk about Jesus) arise, volunteers “are all over it.” He told of delivering bunk beds to a woman who was caring for her grandchildren.
“She asked us to pray for them. We need to be prepared,” Thompson said.
Seeing the reaction of children when they receive their first bed is overwhelming, he admitted. “You tear up. It’s awesome, and that’s why we do it.”
Though he is pleased with what has been accomplished over the past 10 months or so, Thompson knows there are many needs still to be met. SHP needs more sponsors, volunteers and locations where the bunks can be constructed, he noted. Yet, he is not stressed. “The Lord is all over this. I see it every day,” he said.
Arbo agreed. SHP is “a blessing to our county and community. “Our church does not take the position of promoting ministries (such as this). We actively support God’s call upon our lay people (like Bill Thompson and many others) to do the work God has called them and resourced them to do. We find God at work and join Him! That support has included allowing SHP to warehouse all of the ministries materials, tools and trailer at the church.
“We are grateful to Bill and SHP for allowing us to participate personally and prayerfully among so great a need.” B&R