John Jackson of Hartselle was scrolling through social media in February 2018 when he noticed a Facebook show called "Returning the Favor" with Mike Rowe from "Dirty Jobs."
Rowe was featuring a nonprofit called Sleep in Heavenly Peace, which has a mission of providing beds for children without one. Jackson, 49, was intrigued.
“You don’t think about people not having beds," Jackson said. "Think about them not having food, clothes, toys for around Christmas. But a bed? You think everyone’s got that covered."
Jackson enjoys woodworking, so he checked to see if there was Sleep in Heavenly Peace chapter nearby. The closest was San Antonio, Texas, which prompted him to discuss with his wife, Joy, what it would take to start a chapter in Hartselle.
“There were some things that needed to happen financially because one of the prerequisites was to go to Twin Falls, Idaho; that’s where the headquarters is," he said.
Jackson did not know how he was going to travel there — until work intervened. His employer at the time needed him to travel to Florida and was willing to pay for his trip from Idaho to Florida and then back home. He only had to pay for the leg of his flight to Idaho.
“Everything was just kind of falling into place,” Jackson said. “I knew it was meant to be.”
By June 2018, he had his team together and had enough tools borrowed to start building beds. Jackson said he and his team built their first five beds in his front yard that month. A little more than three years later, the Hartselle chapter has built a little more than 12,000 beds. Sleep in Heavenly Peace has also grown since the Hartselle chapter was begun as one of only 13 or 14 in the United States. The nonprofit now has 250 chapters nationwide.
Jackson said his chapter has no paid staff, and the core team of 10 to 12 people consists of people who have full-time jobs and retirees.
Each twin bed is handmade and can be converted into bunk beds if needed. The beds are available to any child ages 3 to 17 that does not have a bed, Jackson said. Along with the bed, the organization gives the child a new mattress, new bedding and a new pillow.
Churches, organizations and businesses sponsor builds where the organization’s team plus other volunteers gather for a day of building beds in the business or church parking lot.
“They told us in training, every build gives birth to another build because somebody’s interested. It just started snowballing that way,” Jackson said.
Forty to 50 beds can be made in about 90 minutes, Jackson said. “If you’ve got 40 or 50 volunteers, it goes fast.”
According to Jackson, the builds are set up as an assembly line.
At the Circle Ranch in Danville, there are homes throughout the property that house foster families. According to Gabe Ross who oversees the ranch, Sleep in Heavenly Peace has made many beds for the foster children.
"The children that typically come from foster care come from a difficult situation," Ross said. "There just either wasn't enough care, or concern, or (there was) neglect or abuse.
"So most of them come with nothing or come with a lot of confusion and shame. And so to have a place or a room or a bed to call their own that they know is going to provide a safe, secure place for them, really helps them settle into the new environment and feel comfortable with their foster family and surroundings," Ross said.
Jackson said feeling comfortable in the beds also helps kids get needed sleep.
“It helps them in school, with behavioral issues, just how they feel about themselves,” he said. “It also gives them a sense of ownership. Their bed. Don’t have to share it.”
There is a section on the shpbed.org website to request a bed, Jackson said. However, usually a request comes from a school counselor, churches, a Department of Human Resources or other organizations. According to Jackson, Hartselle’s Sleep in Heavenly Peace tries to serve every county that touches Morgan County.
Jackson remembers his first delivery, to girls ages 7 and 8.
“It was two little sisters that had moved in from Colorado with their grandmother. When we got there, one was sleeping on the couch, one was in a chair, almost sleeping straight up.
“We had the bedding … and we showed the girls, Mickey Mouse (themed), and they sat in the floor just holding those bags (of bedding), just watching us. It was just the sweetest thing. It tears me up just thinking about it,” Jackson said.
Most people just assume they'll have a bed, Jackson said.
“And that’s what makes it so rewarding is something that little, something that we take for granted, means that much to a kid.”
Sleep in Heavenly Peace is always looking for volunteers to help build beds, locations for builds and donations of new mattresses, new bedding and new pillows. Jackson said there are two donation drop-off sites locally: Warehouse Coffee in Hartselle and Lance Thompson Financial Advisors in Decatur.
The nonprofit's website also has a link for donations designated to the Hartselle chapter: shpbeds.org/chapter/al-hartselle.