‘Sleep in heavenly peace’

Retired couple builds beds for children

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

PITTSBURGH (TNS) — Ed and Elaine Snyder were looking for a new project.

The retired couple, who live in Mars, Butler County, Pennsylvania, were looking for other activities after tackling two house flips. It was then their daughter-in-law mentioned they should consider getting involved with a charity with which she had been volunteering.

Now the Snyders don’t decorate and remodel houses — they build beds.

They got involved with Sleep in Heavenly Peace, a nonprofit charity with around 250 chapters throughout the country – including in Buffalo and Rochester in Western New York – that build wooden twin beds from scratch to give to children who don’t have them.

The organization, founded in Twin Falls, Idaho, did not have a chapter in Western Pennsylvania, although a few dotted the eastern side of the state, according to Snyder. So they started one of their own, along with friend David Nock, with a ribbon-cutting ceremony in February.

The couple went to training at the Idaho headquarters of Sleep in Heavenly Peace in October 2020 and subsequently rented warehouse space at faith-based construction nonprofit Hosanna Industries in New Sewickley, Beaver County. They also purchased four tables for sanding pine picked out for the beds, woodworking jigs, drill machines and more equipment. Each headboard is hand branded with a hot iron: “SHP.”

Snyder explained the old-fashioned but effective technique of using troughs filled with a solution of vinegar and steel wool to stain the wood, which involves weeks of stirring before soaking the individual pieces for just 20 seconds. The Snyders also purchase twin mattresses for the beds as well as sheets, pillows, blankets and comforters. In a typical “build day,” they and volunteers will construct 10 to 15 beds, and they’ve given away more than 30 since March.

“Everything’s new,” Elaine Snyder said. “If their parents can’t afford a bed, that’s an incident that happened to them. That’s not their fault. They deserve to have a bed the same as everyone else. We really deck them out.”

The chapter of Sleep in Heavenly Peace will deliver within a 40-minute drive of either the Snyders’ home in Mars or the New Sewickley warehouse to Butler, Beaver and Allegheny counties and assemble the beds, which are sometimes bunked. During a recent weekend, they delivered beds in Butler, Beaver Falls, Ambridge and Avalon.

Snyder said 2% to 3% of U.S. children do not have a bed to sleep in, and children and youth services departments will not place a child in a home, even with a relative, without a bed for them. Nearly all of the deliveries so far, she noted, have been to families headed by single mothers, and the beds are for ages 3 to 17.

She recalled a delivery to a family near Pittsburgh’s North Side in late March. The mother said, “I know I can’t ask. I don’t have a bed, either.” So Snyder found another bed on Facebook Marketplace, and the seller, hearing whom it was for, gave it to the Snyders for free. The free bed, however, turned out to be a kid’s bed as well, so the little girl received the other bed and the mother was given the SHP bed.

“It all came out in the wash,” Snyder said. “But the mom, when we went to bring the bed in for her, she said, ‘My room’s downstairs.’ And her room was in the basement by the furnace. They had to shim the one leg because it was on cement floors, so the bed was teetering. She was thrilled to have a bed.”

Another delivery involved grandparents who had taken in three grandchildren who had “nothing in their rooms at all.” The children were excited to receive their own beds.

In addition to helping with production and delivery, Snyder also seeks out families who need beds for their children. Several teachers have applied on behalf of students and walk parents through the process. She has also been in touch with crisis centers, women and children’s groups, and homeless shelters.

On a build day, the Snyders need at least 15 volunteers to fill out the production line, and interested parties can contact Snyder via email at elaine.snyder@shpbeds.org.

“It does take about 15 people to help, sanding, building, cutting,” she said. “If you’re afraid to do anything, you can sand. If you say ‘I don’t know how to do anything,’ there is still a job for you.”

All the chapters of Sleep in Heavenly Peace came together June 12 for the third annual Bunks Across America event, where each built beds on the same day in a show of solidarity, upholding the organization’s slogan, “No kid sleeps on the floor in our town.”

She said donations of pillows and bedclothes, particularly blankets, are also a way folks can help Sleep in Heavenly Peace.

The charity organization started in 2012 when Idaho resident Luke Mickelson made a bed for a neighbor boy for Christmas. Out of the leftover wood, Mickelson built a second bed and put it on Facebook. Soon he had multiple requests from folks in need of a bed and others eager to help him build more. SHP was born.

As the organization grew but bypassed Western Pennsylvania, the opportunity presented itself to the Snyders. “My husband and I, I guess we’re gutsier that we thought we were,” Snyder said. “When I think of the shop and how much we had to buy and set up and figure, ‘This gets done first’ and how everything works in the production line, it just floors me that we managed to do all that. But we did.”

LOCAL ANGLE

Sleep in Heavenly Peace has seven chapters in New York State, including in Buffalo and Rochester. For more information:

n Buffalo: Williamsville, (844) 432-2337 ext. 5937, https://www.shpbeds.org/chapter/ny-buffalo.

n Rochester: Fairport, (844) 432-2337 ext. 5940, https://www.shpbeds.org/chapter/ny-rochester.

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