An army of people wielding wood sanders behind Baggett Elementary School sounded like the world’s largest, loudest beehive. The volunteers manning them were busy as bees carrying out their task in the assembly line on Oct. 26.
About 200 volunteers were working behind the elementary school to build kits for roughly 100 bunk beds that will be sent to families with children who don’t have beds of their own.
Tammi Verdi, a kindergarten teacher at Lilburn Elementary School, was impressed by how efficiently the assembly line moved as wood was passed from station to station. Verdi’s job was to drill large holes big enough for bolts to fit into headboards.
Verdi said she’s seen to affect a bed could have on a child’s performance in school. She recalled a former student whose disposition would change by the week. One week, the student would seem troubled, the next week he was happy. Verdi and her colleagues found out from the students’ parents that he was sharing one mattress with his siblings, who took turns using it week-to-week.
“It was because his neck and his back were hurting,” Verdi said. “We’ve seen what a difference it makes to have a bed to sleep on.”
Sleep in Heavenly Peace is a nonprofit that is literally getting kids off the ground. SHP coordinates volunteers, materials and tools used to make bunk beds for children sleeping on the floor or on a cot. The parent organization has been around since 2012, but the Gwinnett County chapter formed in March.
Roughly 75 of the beds will go south to Florida’s Gulf Coast to serve victims of Hurricane Michael. Eight volunteers with the Tallahassee chapter of SHP were at Baggett Elementary to help build and ship the beds to the coast. The remaining 25 bunks are headed to homes of children at Lilburn and Baggett Elementary schools. A few of the volunteers at the school on Saturday were Baggett and Lilburn Elementary faculty.
Amber Fisher, a counselor Baggett Elementary School, said the idea for Saturday’s massive build started with coincidence. Fisher received contact info for SHP Gwinnett County Chapter President Brian Buckwalter earlier this year. At first, she thought the contact would be another resource that might benefit her long-term. Two hours later, she said she received a call from a concerned parent of some Baggett students who lost their house in a fire in December.
“I said, ‘You know what? Give me a minute, this is kind of weird,’” Fisher said.
She submitted an application and by the end of the day Buckwalter had contacted her. At the end of the week, the school had four new beds, which it delivered to students. That small-scale build opened the door for Saturday’s large project, which coincided with Gwinnett Great Days of Service. Lowe’s provided $25,000 to contribute for tools, materials and meals.
Lilburn and Baggett elementary schools collected bedding and linens which will be sent to families along with the kits.
“When you tell people, ‘I build bunk beds for kids who don’t have them,’ I think there’s this reaction of disbelief that, one, this is even a problem, and two, that’s so simple,” Buckwalter said.
This is the fourth build for the Gwinnett chapter of SHP in its short existence. Most builds are significantly smaller — usually about 14 bunks. This one was made possible by the sponsorship dollars of Lowe’s and volunteer power that included two local elementary schools and SHP members.
“Both (Fisher and I) are big-idea people,” Buckwalter said.