“The children were nestled all snug in their beds, while visions of sugarplums danced in their heads.”
Snuggling into bed on a cold winter night is something that many people take for granted, but for some children, going without a bed is a reality that they live with every day. That’s why, since 2012, the Lynn-based Massachusetts Coalition for the Homeless has been providing twin beds for children who need them through its initiative A Bed for Every Child.
A Bed for Every Child is a statewide program that works to get new beds into the homes of children who are growing up in poverty. It works with public school districts, community health centers, hospitals, and agencies like the Department of Children and Families to identify children who need a bed. People can also make requests for a bed online at abedforeverychild.org.
“From there we then make the delivery of the bed directly to the parent, and it’s all done free of cost,” says Robyn Frost, executive director of the Massachusetts Coalition for the Homeless.
This December, the Coalition is hosting its fourth annual Holiday Build A Bed program from Saturday, December 11, through Saturday, December 18, where volunteers can sign up to build a bed from their own homes. The $350 registration fee covers all the necessary materials to build a bed, including instructions, headboard, footboard, side rails, a sanitized toolbox, nuts, bolts, washers, screws, drill, wrench, sanding paper, and cut-out stars to paint. It also covers the cost of the mattress. For volunteer builders on the North Shore, the Coalition will deliver the materials to participants’ homes and pick up the completed beds when they’re built.
According to A Bed for Every Child’s data, there are many reasons that the kids they serve don’t have a bed of their own. Some share a bed with a sibling or their parents; some have only a couch or an air mattress to sleep on; some have outgrown their cribs; some of their beds are broken or had bed bugs; and others sleep on the floor.
Not getting a good night’s sleep can wreak havoc on everything from a child’s mood to their academic performance to their physical health and so much more.
“When you’re sleeping on a floor or sleeping on couches, you’re not getting the rest that you need to be able to concentrate,” says volunteer Kristie Dickinson, whose husband, Jeff Dickinson, also serves on the Coalition’s board. She said they’ve heard from teachers and schools about kids who are so exhausted at school from getting too little rest the night before.
“And education, as we all know, is a key part of breaking the cycle of poverty,” Dickinson says.
Dickinson volunteers with her company, Beverly-based CHMWarnick, to build beds as an annual volunteer project for its employees. This October, Dickinson and her coworkers spent an afternoon making 10 beds that would later be donated to North Shore children.
“It’s a great give-back but is also really a big part of our corporate culture and team building,” she says.
CHMWarnick is one of many companies, school groups, and others who help to build beds as a learning, team-building, and volunteer opportunity.
Individuals can also sign up to build beds, and this year, those who participate in the Holiday Build A Bed program will also receive a short biography of a child who will be receiving the bed.
“It’s a kind of great, family-fun thing to do,” Frost says of the bed-building activity. It’s also doable for anyone.
“No one has to be handy to know how to build a bed,” she says. “Everything is really easy. It comes with directions, and we are on call for questions and video chat anytime.”
A Bed for Every Child is just one of The Massachusetts Coalition for the Homeless’s initiatives. The coalition will mark its 40th anniversary in 2022, and over the past four decades has worked tirelessly on many initiatives, including shaping public policy, and working with legislators to create systemic change.
The organization is also deeply involved in homelessness prevention, from providing rental assistance to partnering with community health centers, schools, and other organizations throughout Massachusetts to help people who are experiencing housing emergencies.
The Massachusetts Coalition for the Homeless’s work has also taken on a poignant new meaning during the pandemic as Americans have struggled with low-paying jobs, unemployment, and unstable housing. Even those of us lucky enough to keep our jobs and homes got an up-close look at how critical having a “home” really is when we were all forced to stay there during those early days of the pandemic.
“We’ve all learned the importance of having a place to call home,” says Frost. “We really do understand the struggles of those that are on the lower income side to just be able to keep a roof over their head.”