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‘Now I lay me down’

After nearly two decades, Michigan church’s bed ministry is still going strong

by Tammy Warren | Presbyterian News Service

An annual bed race helps fund the “Now I Lay Me Down” bed ministry at First Presbyterian Church in Monroe, Mich. (Photo by Kim Hooper)

LOUISVILLE  — Two men on the Mission Committee of First Presbyterian Church of Monroe, Mich., took the 2000-01 Presbyterian Planning Calendar’s “Year of the Child” theme to heart. “We ought to do something for children this year,” they said.

The obvious question arose: “What should we do?”

So, for four to six months, a different guest from the community was invited to speak before the Mission Committee about the greatest unmet need among Monroe County children. The committee listened to the perspectives of police, social service providers, educators and others.

After gathering data, the Mission Committee came before the session with a new child-focused project. Sue Flaherty, chair of the Mission Committee at that time, said, “We know what we want to do. We want to buy beds for children who are sleeping on the floor in Monroe County.”

The Rev. Dean McGormley, who was co-pastor of FPC Monroe with his wife, the Rev. Dr. Ellen McGormley for 17 years, and is currently back serving as co-interim pastor, said, “It took a half a second to approve it and 30 minutes to talk about it.”

As word got out through social service agencies, first one person asked for a bed and then another, “We lived hand and mouth, barely able to make it work,” McGormley said. “My dream was always to have a bed race to fund it.”

Since 2001, the Now I Lay Me Down bed ministry has provided more than 3,500 beds for children and adolescents in need in Monroe County, south of Detroit. The ministry makes about 200 bed deliveries a year. People in need hear about the ministry by word of mouth or through agencies and community sponsors. There is an application process and the need for a bed must be verified by a reliable referral source, such as a Department of Health and Human Services worker, a pastor, landlord or home visitor.

“The need is there in every community,” said Kim Hooper, a volunteer since the ministry began. Because children are sleeping on the floor, when it gets colder the need increases, he said.

“When you are sleeping on the floor in Michigan, in our extreme weather, it could get below zero,” Hooper said. “Some parents don’t know where to turn.” He said the bed ministry is a health and education program. “If you don’t believe that, go home tonight and lay down on your kitchen floor and sleep there; then get up and see how well you are ready to go to work in the morning.”

Volunteers work to install beds. If space is limited in a home, a bunk bed can be installed so that each child has his or her own bed. (Photo by Bill Zeiler)

Volunteers work in pairs to deliver and set up the beds for children and adolescents from before birth to age 16. The all-volunteer ministry currently has about 30 people from FPC Monroe, as well as other churches and organizations in the community. Every bed delivery includes a new mattress and box spring, mattress cover, pillow, sheets, a blanket or handmade quilt, a stuffed animal and bedtime storybook.

A local chapter of Project Linus helps the bed ministry by donating handmade blankets for the children, and the quilt ministry of St. Luke’s Lutheran Church donates handmade quilts.

Over the years there have been many stories that have kept volunteers motivated to persevere in meeting the increasing need for beds for children and adolescents in the county:

  • One young girl with lead poisoning had been eating the peeling lead-based paint from the floor where she slept. Having a bed got her off the floor and away from this health hazard while she was sleeping.
  • Two children of a single father, ages 8 and 15, had been sleeping on an air mattress and a pile of clothes in the corner of the room, respectively, until they each received a twin bed of their own.
  • A military family with three children, ages 5, 7 and 10, were still paying off medical expenses incurred when the youngest child was born with a congenital heart defect. The volunteers noticed this family hardly had any furniture at all and no refrigerator. They had been keeping food cold in a small cooler on the back porch. Hooper and his wife happened to be moving to another home, so they were able to provide a couch and chair, another family provided a refrigerator and stove, and the children each received a bed of their own.
  • Recently volunteers were delivering a twin bed to an 11-year-old girl who, at 7 months old, had a heart transplant. She was sleeping on the couch with her mom, sharing the few blankets they had to try and keep warm.

“Those are the extremes of who we serve,” Hooper said. “A lot of parents are underemployed. People just aren’t making the wages to provide for their families. That’s why it’s nice that we can step in and help them.”

The ministry buys the beds through a local furniture company. A twin bed with all the bedding and accessories costs between $200-$250. Through a collaborative partnership with the Red Cross, bed ministry volunteers also install smoke detectors in homes that do not have a working smoke detector; this is done simultaneous with bed delivery and set-up.

To help fund the bed ministry, the church realized Gormley’s dream to start a Bed Race to Aid Children. The race began in 2008 after a local nursing home closed and donated its beds to the ministry. When someone suggested these heavy hospital-style beds be turned into race beds, the idea took off. A church member who was a machinist, the late Todd Thompson, made the beds strong and raceable. Now the ministry has a total of 15 race beds. The bed race takes place on the courthouse square in downtown Monroe each fall.

“We usually raise about $30,000 a year through the bed race,” Hooper said. “It’s fun. It’s fun to watch.” There is a traveling trophy for the team with the fastest time and one for the school with the most team entries. Other small trophies and prizes are presented in various divisions.

“Every team registration means one bed can be provided for one child,” Hooper said.

A team takes part in the first Sled Race to Aid Children during the Christmas in Ida Festival Parade last year. (Photo by Kim Hooper)

Last year, a state senator from Ida, Michigan — known for its Christmas in Ida Festival that draws about 40,000 people to the village the first weekend of December — approached Hooper with an idea. He said, “Kim, I know about the bed race. Let’s have a sled race.”

“That’s fine and good, but how are we going to have a sled race?” Hooper asked.

A local school superintendent who serves on the board of the Bed Race to Aid Children said, “Let me see what I can do.” She contacted the school district’s woodshop, plywood was purchased and a local builder worked with students to make the sleighs, which were painted and decorated by a high school art department. Since the parade is held at night, Christmas lights were added. So, for one night, some of the bed race teams became sled race teams — raising an additional $3,000 for the bed ministry.

“It came off well,” Hooper said of the first Sled Race to Aid Children. “Everything fell in place. You know, sometimes you think it’s God telling you, ‘I’ll provide.’”

First Presbyterian Church of Monroe, Mich., hosts a Community of Need Meal each Thursday. supported through the Two Cents a Meal offering program collected the last Sunday of each month. (Contributed photo)

For more information on the As I Lay Me Down bed ministry, contact Kim Hooper or co-interim pastors the Rev. Dean McGormley or the Rev. Dr. Ellen McGormley, First Presbyterian Church of Monroe, 734-242-1545.

First Presbyterian Church of Monroe, Michigan, is celebrating 200 years of faith and service this year, and nearly two decades of its Now I Lay Me Down bed ministry for children and adolescents up to age 16 in Monroe County. The church hosts a weekly “Community of Need Meal” serving about 100 people each Thursday evening. It’s part of a larger effort of congregations offering a meal each night of the week to help struggling individuals and families stretch their food budget a bit further. At FPC Monroe, this meal is supported by the Two Cents A Meal donation, collected the last Sunday of each month. Families can take home a can and deposit two cents per meal per person to help provide the weekly Community of Need Meal.

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