Sleep in Heavenly Peace

by Beth Riner, Messenger Staff Writer

A local volunteer effort to build beds for children ages three to 17 in Monteagle, Sewanee, and surrounding Grundy and Franklin Counties has grown leaps and bounds since its beginnings nearly a year and a half ago in April of 2022.

This year, 2023, Monteagle’s satellite team of Sleep in Heavenly Peace, a charity chapter based out of South Pittsburg, Tenn., has provided beds for more than 80 children in Grundy County alone.

Upcoming events include the 2023 Bunks Across America Bed build from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 9, at Lowe’s in Kimball.

“We welcome anyone who wants to come into the program and get involved,” said Sewanee resident Bob Askew, who spearheads local efforts.

“Sleep in Heavenly Peace is a national organization,” Askew explained. “The primary purpose is to provide beds for children who are in undesirable sleeping situations — that can mean on the floor, sleeping with a sibling or their parents. We’ve even seen children on trampolines or broken mattresses.”

Founded in 2012 by an Idaho father as a simple Christmas service project, Sleep in Heavenly Peace gained national exposure when celebrity Mike Rowe, known for the TV show Dirty Jobs, featured it on his show Returning the Favor, which spotlights people who are giving back to their communities.

“This organization in 2018 went from nine chapters once it was on television to over 331 chapters today,” Askew said. “That’s how it found its way to South Pittsburg and now into Grundy County.”

Norm Flake, the South Pittsburg chapter president of Sleep in Heavenly Peace, spoke to the Monteagle-Sewanee Rotary Club at a breakfast meeting in February of 2022.

“When he mentioned that kids were sleeping on the floor, it hit me so hard,” Askew said. “It impacted me, and it impacted the whole club because that day we decided we were going to get involved in supporting his project.”

Since nearly 30 percent of the bed requests that Flake received in South Pittsburg were coming from Monteagle and surrounding Grundy County, he convinced Askew and others to establish a satellite team.

Things came together quickly. Corporate sponsor Lowe’s gave $4,000 to help get things started — it’s something Lowe’s does to help every new team get off the ground.

A local businessman provided a large area underneath his store for the group to establish a cut shop. Here, the group could process donations from Appalachian Hardwoods, a sawmill in Huntland, Tenn.

“Everything that we make from their donations is free,” said cut shop volunteer Bill McCollum. “Since April of 2022, we are at $13,500 savings in lumber costs.”

Equally happy to get on board was the American Legion in Sewanee, which provided basement space for the group to stage its bed deliveries.

“We delivered 18 beds in July of 2023,” Askew said. “We’re averaging 15 to 20 monthly now in Grundy.”

Askew said the sturdy wooden beds, which come as twin singles or bunks, are similar to dorm beds.

“They’re super heavy and simple to assemble,” he said. Sleep in Heavenly Peace provides a mattress and bedding bundle of coordinated sheets, pillowcase, comforter, and sham, with much-loved Disney characters being popular with younger children.

Local churches like Morton Memorial United Methodist Church have contributed by holding bedding drives, and it’s not unusual for a chapter member to make a run to a department store to pick up specialty bedding such as “Frozen” that was requested by a child.

About 40 volunteers from the Monteagle Sunday School Assembly (MSSA) built 30 beds in a three to four-hour build in early July.

“We delivered 17 beds in Grundy County after that,” Askew said. “We exhausted half of that build in one month.”

Askew noted that some of the folks participating in the MSSA build were so moved by the experience that they quietly slipped donation checks to the program afterwards.

While the bed build at the MSSA was a large one, Askew said smaller builds can be ideal for groups such as sororities or fraternities who need service hours or businesses who wish to do team-building experiences and contribute to a worthwhile charity at the same time.

The organization has also partnered with Tim Tucker’s carpentry class at Grundy County High School, Askew said.

“I think that’s really an exciting element of this thing,” Askew said. “The idea of kids helping kids is pretty cool to me.” Tucker’s students have planed lumber for bed builds, and Askew hopes to get them more involved starting this September.

For Askew, the most meaningful part is bed delivery days.

“When I heard that kids were sleeping on the floor, my jaw hit the floor,” Askew said. “It was jarring. It totally changed my direction in what I felt like I needed to be doing for Rotary. We are called to help others who are struggling.”

To donate or volunteer, email Askew at <bob.askew@shpbeds.org> or call him at (931) 636-1873. To apply for a free bed, go to <www.shpbeds.org>.

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