After witnessing an unimaginable sight, a group of high school students was moved to help others less fortunate than themselves, who found themselves in a sad situation. Anne Watson, Executive Director at St. Vincent de Paul in South Bend, explained that the Sweet Dreams Ministry, an outreach of the St. Joseph County’s St. Vincent de Paul Society, came about when the teens accompanied Society members on a home visit in 2017.
“We visited a large family, a mom and seven children, and they had one bed that they were taking turns using. When it wasn’t their turn, the kids were sleeping either on the couches or floor. Our students were absolutely horrified by this. They couldn’t believe that at this time, in this area, kids were still without a bed.” The students brainstormed ways to help, and ultimately the Sweet Dreams Ministry was born.
The program provides new beds to children in the county between the ages of 3-17 who do not have their own beds or have an unusable mattress due to mold, bedbugs or other issues.
The St. Vincent de Paul Society has two yearly campaigns for their Sweet Dreams Ministry, one during Lent, with their “40 beds in 40 days” campaign, and the other just before the school year begins. Sweet Dreams typically distributes 40 beds through each campaign, which are always spoken for quickly. For the discounted price of $210, the program is able to buy and gift a new twin bed frame, mattress, bedding and pillow to each child who has been approved. Families with bedding needs are often referred to St. Vincent de Paul Society through local agencies the Society works closely with. According to their website, applicants must go through a referral agency, and the fall term opens on August 23 for any families in need of beds.
Watson explained that “beds are one of our most requested services when people call us for help, right after food and financial assistance. Folks living in poverty, through no fault of their own, end up in a living situation where they can’t afford beds, or where there are leaky windows or bed bugs, so that the bed they did have is destroyed beyond use.”
Holly Hosinski, Seasonal Programs Director at St. Vincent de Paul, added: “As you might imagine, for folks who are living hand to mouth, it is extremely difficult to gather the amount of money to make a large purchase for a bed, or any furniture, really. That is one of the many reasons this program is so popular.”
Before COVID, staff and volunteers delivered the beds and set them up for the families. “The kids were always so excited,” Watson remembered. “The parents, too, were very excited and appreciative that their children could have a bed of their own.”
During the pandemic, families had to pick up and assemble the beds themselves, which could be an inconvenience if they were without means to move them.
Sweet Dreams Ministry, however, was one of 100 organizations nationwide to win a 2022 State Farm Neighborhood Assist grant, totally $25,000, which allowed them to have funding up front for the next year. Watson said, “We have never gotten a grant that large for this program, and we are really excited. It’s going to help get new beds to a lot of families.”
The Society now hopes to buy up to 50 new beds for their next distribution. Watson and Hosinski are excited that this fall, volunteers from Penske Trucks will deliver new beds to families, relieving the recipients of the difficulty of picking up the beds and supplies themselves.
“This is great for our families, especially since a lot of them have transportation difficulties anyway,” Watson added.
The children also love the homemade colorful fleece blankets that come with the beds. “The blankets add a nice personal touch,” remarked Hosinski. “Having fleece blankets in a variety of patterns that would appeal to different ages is a way to make it more personal and sweeter.” Gifting children with their own blankets is only possible due to the generous time and creativity of volunteers. Hosinski said that the blankets are easy to make by following tutorials on YouTube, and they are a great service activity that can involve the whole family. Sweet Dreams Ministry is always in need of more volunteers to make them, and people who are interested can contact Holly Hosinski at [email protected].
Thanks to the high school students who saw and met a need in their community, Sweet Dreams Ministry has helped hundreds of children in St. Joseph County attain new beds to call their own. People can make a one-time or monthly monetary donation to this ministry, even sponsoring an entire bed for a needy child, on the Sweet Dreams Ministry webpage: www.svdpsb.org/sweet-dreams-ministry.
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