by Joe Bollig
ATCHISON — Sam Fabozzi was a freshman at Benedictine College here in 2019 when he heard about something new happening on campus, something called Sleep in Heavenly Peace.
It was about building free beds for kids who needed them.
Intrigued, he called the leader of the project, associate professor of engineering Patrick O’Malley. The more Fabozzi heard about it, the more enthused he became.
Here, he thought, he could put to good use the carpentry skills he’d developed since his childhood.
He asked O’Malley if he could help deliver beds, to see what it was all about.
“Do you have a truck?” said O’Malley.
“Yeah,” said Fabozzi.
“Good,” said the associate professor. “We’re going to need it.”
Fast forward to 2021.
“Now, I do a lot more than just deliveries,” explained Fabozzi, a junior majoring in mechanical engineering. “But it’s something I really enjoy doing — getting to see the kids’ faces when I knock on the door and say, ‘Hi, I’m Sam from Sleep in Heavenly Peace, and I’m here to deliver your bed.’ The smiles I see and the excitement — it’s like Christmas morning.”
Sleep in Heavenly Peace is a nonprofit founded in 2012 by Luke and Heidi Mickelson in Twin Falls, Idaho. Their idea was simple: have volunteers build and deliver free beds for children who would otherwise have none.
O’Malley traveled to Idaho in 2018 with student Sage MacKay to learn how to run a chapter. The Atchison group held its first build day in May 2018. Since then, they have built a total of 485 twin-size beds for children. Beds are delivered within a 40-mile radius of Atchison. The most recent build day was Feb. 27; they’ll deliver the beds they built that day on March 20.
“I was looking for a volunteer project I could work on with my family and bring in the college students,” said O’Malley. “I recognized there was a need out there and I had the ability with my position in the engineering school to do something about it. So, I approached the college about starting a chapter and they were very supportive.”
O’Malley and student Rosie Schuberg, a senior, are co-presidents of the Atchison SHP chapter, which has a core team of seven students but utilizes hundreds of volunteers from the college and the towns of Atchison and St. Joseph, Missouri.
The SHP Atchison chapter has partnered with Catholic Charities, the YWCA domestic violence shelter and city housing authority in St. Joseph, school nurses, and many other organizations and individuals for referrals.
“The problem of not having a bed is a hidden problem,” said O’Malley. “We have programs in place for kids who aren’t getting enough food; we have the school lunch program. Or if someone is sitting outside without a coat on, that’s an obvious problem you can address. But if the kid doesn’t have a bed, no one sees that except his family.”
“There was a house literally a block up the street from where I live,” O’Malley continued. “I had no idea they didn’t have beds [until] we got a request. We gave that family six beds. A lot of people don’t know how big the need is.
“Even when we were starting, I thought, ‘How many beds are we possibly going to need to build?’ And I was blown away by the demand and how big the need is.”
The waiting list was approximately 250 people as of March 1.
The Atchison chapter holds build days, during which volunteers come to the Benedictine College engineering building to construct a large number of beds on a single Saturday.
“I manage all the setup,” said Fabozzi. “On Friday night before the build day, I spend two to three hours moving stuff around in the engineering shop and setting up all the tables and stations, so when people show up at 9 a.m., everything is good to go and we can begin building and sanding.”
“On Saturday, I do a lot of moving people around,” he continued, “making sure people know what they need to do at each station, and make sure everything is moving smoothly along with Dr. O’Malley.
“I know all the steps myself, so if I have to step in . . . I do. Besides the build days, I also manage the inventory. I tell Dr. O’Malley when we need to order more bedding or mattresses, when we’re getting low on bed frames so we can schedule another build day. . . . I take people on deliveries who’ve never done them before.”
One of the student volunteers who has become a core team member is Ricky Muniz, a senior double majoring in finance and international business. As a “vetter,” he finds out which families have the greatest need and schedules deliveries.
“I really enjoy helping out in the community,” said Muniz. “I did a lot of community service back home in Nicaragua. I missed it, and when I heard about Sleep in Heavenly Peace, I really wanted to get involved.”
Curtis and Erin Couldry of St. Joseph have four children — three of whom outgrew their beds. They needed something soon for their twin 3-year-old sons and their 5-year-old son.
“We were very concerned about having to buy beds for the boys,” said Erin. “It was looking like it would be several hundred dollars for beds. That was just a massive cost. When I told [Curtis] about this program, he was happy about it.”
The twins got their beds first, and a month later, SHP delivered one for the 5-year-old.
“He walked into the room and said, ‘A big-boy bed for me!’” said Erin. “He was so happy about it. I said, ‘Do you like your bed?,’ and he said, ‘I just love it so much.’ He was so happy and so excited to have a big bed of his own.”
To volunteer, make a financial donation or to request a bed, go to the website at: shpbeds.org/chapter/ks-benedictine-college.