Sweet Dreams for Kids in Need
A local nonprofit makes beds so that no child has to sleep on the floor.
By Crystal Schelle and Photos by Turner Photography Studio
Every child deserves a comfortable bed, a warm blanket, and a pillow to lay their head on every night no matter what their life’s circumstances are. That’s the simple philosophy behind the national organization Sleep in Heavenly Peace.
Based in Twin Falls, Idaho, Sleep in Heavenly Peace (SHP), opened a Hagerstown chapter in May 2021 so that Washington County children can have something many people take for granted: a bed.
Ernie Giancola of Hagerstown is president of the Hagerstown chapter. He became involved with Sleep in Heavenly Peace after hearing of the organization’s mission. According to the national headquarters’ website, SHP’s belief is “a bed is a basic need for the proper physical, emotional, and mental support that a child needs.”
“There’s so many nonprofit agencies, organizations, and civic organizations that provide food and clothing, but no one out there provides a bed,” Ernie said.
Ernie, who works for a roofing company, also enjoys woodworking. He started volunteering at the SHP chapter in Frederick County, which opened in 2018. For nearly two years he helped to precut wood to make the beds. It was the Frederick chapter president who encouraged him to open a chapter in Hagerstown.
The Hagerstown chapter has become a family affair. His wife, Anna, is the bedding coordinator. Daughter Abby is the community liaison and delivery manager, and son Luke is part of the build team.
“I just saw what a passion he had for it and the love he had for it, I thought maybe I could help out for this,” Anna said.
Anna, who is a special education teacher in Title 1 schools, knows the type of children who benefit from SHP.
“You see firsthand that there’s a lot of need in this area,” she said.
Sleep in Heavenly Peace is a 100 percent volunteer organization whose main focus is children. Volunteers range in age from 12 years old and older. As of the beginning of January, Ernie said they have 160 volunteers who include sponsors, donors, and volunteers who participate in bed builds.
“In 10 years, Sleep in Heavenly Peace has built 96,925 beds,” he said. “They have 300 chapters across the United States, presently and that makes 147,770 volunteers.”
Beds are available for ages 3 to 17. If there are multiple children in the home, a bed request must be made for each individual child by a guardian in the home. In 2021, SHP chapters across the nation built 33,380 beds and delivered 23,447 beds.
“Once the application is filled out, you’re guaranteed a bed,” Ernie said.
Each chapter is designated by zip code, Ernie explained, which means although the chapter is based in Washington County the delivery area does not include Clear Spring and Hancock. The main reason is that travel time plus putting the bed together at the home could take up to five hours and puts strain on such a small organization. As of February 1, the local chapter has built 190 beds and has delivered 160 beds.
The advantage of the chapter being so new is that they have an abundance of sources to fulfill their bed needs at this time. However, Ernie said, there is such a demand across the country that some chapters have a waiting list 150 to 200 deep.
Chapters have to generate the funds and support to build the beds they specifically build. Ernie said volunteers reach out to local clubs, organizations, civic groups, churches, as well as small and large businesses for volunteers, building supplies, and monetary donations. People have held bedding drives as well as dropped off mattresses, pillows, and more to help the cause.
“The price per bed right now is about $250,” he said, noting that includes the bed frame, mattress, bedding, and pillow. Due to the rising cost of supplies, Ernie said when SHP started making beds a decade ago, the cost averaged $140 per standard twin-size bed.
Ernie said the community has really given back already. Local businesses, churches, and other community organizations have donated supplies. A group of women makes blankets for each individual child who receives a bed.
“It started with one specific individual who we know,” Anna said. “And then she took it into her workplace where she works. And some of the nuns have assisted her now in creating these blankets.”
She said the women can’t physically be there to build the beds, but this is one way they can contribute.
“It’s like a huge tree that’s just blossoming,” she said.
The setup at the SHP Hagerstown chapter’s West Lee Street warehouse is meant to be efficient for building beds.
Ernie said the average bed build takes about three hours. A few days before a bed build, volunteers first stage all the lumber at each station. The night before, the wood is precut for the event so that the next day it runs efficiently.
“Generally, most chapters will work from 9 o’clock to 12 o’clock on a Saturday, they’ll turn out 40 beds,” he said.
For multiple children households, beds can be converted into bunk beds. And to keep them safe, beds are dunked into a nontoxic mixture of steel wool and vinegar to prevent bed bugs and also stain the wood. All beds get branded with SHP.
Mark Sandee of Germantown is the build manager for the Hagerstown chapter. He came on board as a friend of Ernie’s. Sandee, a retired electrical engineer, said he discovered SHP while looking for an organization that contributed to his community.
“And this just came along, and it was great because you can help just any kind of kid,” he said. “It doesn’t matter what’s their background. They’re just kids who need help.”
Volunteer Matt Bowman of Hagerstown has been volunteering with SHP since they formed in Hagerstown.
“I like that we’re giving kids the beds,” he said.
As of early December, Ernie said they have made 160 beds and delivered 150 beds, “with a waiting list that continues to grow.”
Matt said knowing kids are sleeping in the beds they made makes him feel “awesome.” He said he hopes they get a “good night’s rest.”
Ken Foristoe of Hagerstown started volunteering with SHP because he knew the Giancolas from his church. He said what he likes the most about SHP is knowing that what they build is made specifically for those who live in the community.
“There are plenty of needy kids right here in Hagerstown,” he said.
Ken said he hadn’t been out on his first delivery yet, but he hopes the kids who receive the beds feel safe.
“And they know that someone really cares about them,” he said.
Rounding out the build bed team are Austin Lynch, Tony Mayhugh, and Jim Edgle.
Kenny Eshbaugh of Boonsboro also is part of the bed build team.
“This is totally different from anything I’ve ever volunteered for,” he said. “It’s a real blessing.”
SHP – Hagerstown is looking for volunteers as well as donations as the cost of building supplies is climbing. To find out more including when the next bed build is, visit the Facebook page at www.facebook.com/SHPHagerstownMD or to www.shpbeds.org/chapter/md-hagerstown