There are children sleeping on the floor in Portage.
It’s a problem some people never see or think about, Sara Shaver and Brian Scheibach say.
It’s a problem they want to solve.
“I know the need is greater than probably the average person in Portage would know, and I would probably be sad to learn it’s even bigger than what I think it is,” said Shaver, co-owner of Compass Counseling in Portage.
Shaver and Scheibach recently launched a Portage chapter of the nonprofit organization Sleep in Heavenly Peace, which builds bunk beds for children. The chapter will hold an informational meeting at 6 p.m. Wednesday at Jack’s Tap, 1207 Dunn St., Portage, where the founders hope to round up as many volunteers and donors as possible.
Scheibach is the director of instructional technology in the Cudahy School District near Milwaukee, but returns home to Portage every weekend. In January he watched “Returning the Favor,” a new Facebook TV series hosted by Mike Rowe of “Dirty Jobs.” In the series, Rowe features various do-gooders from across the U.S.
When Rowe featured Sleep in Heavenly Peace, which started in Twin Falls, Idaho, Scheibach felt compelled to do something for his hometown. He shared the story on his personal Facebook page, made some phone calls and researched how to get the local group off the ground.
The national SHP had 13 chapters before Rowe’s show aired in January, Scheibach said. “Since then they’ve had requests for 900 chapters.”
One of the requirements for starting a new chapter is traveling to Idaho to see how it’s done, and Scheibach did that about three weeks ago. Among the things he learned is chapters need to raise $300 per bed, which buys everything from the bed itself to the mattresses, sheets and pillows, and it takes only about four hours to build 10 bunk beds with help from 20 to 30 people.
Portage residents who need bunk beds for their children should register on shpbeds.org. The Portage chapter will then interview these families to determine who receives the first 10 bunk beds, which will likely be built in July.
“It’s an organization that’s 100-percent volunteerism,” Shaver said. “All of the money comes from donations, and I don’t want people to think they can’t help out if they can’t build a bed. There are so many different ways they can help get this chapter up and running.”
The ways people might help, aside from building bunk beds, include spreading the word for potential volunteers and donors or for families who need beds; making lunches for volunteers on build days; donating trucks for transporting beds; delivering beds; donating space for building beds; donating books to go with beds; coordinating efforts among other local service organizations; and hosting sheet and bedding drives.
The Portage chapter also is looking for local businesses that might source materials.
Any questions about volunteering would be answered Wednesday, but people who cannot make the informational meeting should call or email Scheibach at 608-683-9109, firstname.lastname@example.org, or call or email Shaver at 608-697-3411, email@example.com.
Realizing the nonprofit’s mission – “No kid sleeps on the floor in our town” – will require help from more people than Scheibach and Shaver can estimate at this time. But there is no such thing as too many volunteers.
“Right now we want a list of everybody who wants to be included in our mailing system and to keep them up to date on build days,” Shaver said.
The Portage chapter expects several build days will be held throughout the warmer months, from about April to October every year.
“A lot of the people I talk to are aware of kids in our community who don’t have a bed to call their own,” said Shaver.
In Idaho, Scheibach delivered beds into homes where the ensuing excitement among children seemed almost surreal.
“If you enter a home and this little 3-year-old is hugging your leg saying, ‘Mom, I get my own pillow. Mom, I get my own pillow,’” you won’t forget it either, Scheibach said. “A lot of people put blinders on and say that it doesn’t happen here, but it is probably happening right down the street from where people live and they don’t realize it.”