The holiday season is a time for gratitude. We’re grateful for our family, our friends, our home. During a year of quarantine, we’ve been thankful for beautiful days that let us enjoy nature, time for a leisurely a cocktail on the patio, the amazing work of our kids’ teachers (can I get an amen?). But have you ever thought to be grateful just to have a bed? For many in DFW, that’s actually a luxury. We spoke to Doug Nickols, founder and director of Bed Start—a nonprofit organization based in Collin County that provides beds for those in need—about just how important it is to have a place to lay your head.
What are the origins of Bed Start? Bed Start began out of a church ministry. I left an over-worked corporate leadership job, had a truck and trailer, and found an unmet need in the community. [The first family we served was] a single mom with three children—one terminally ill—whose husband abandoned them and took all the furnishings in their Allen apartment. We located beds for them and received furniture donations.
Tell us about who you serve. We’re a three-part ministry. We directly serve the community; we share gently used beds and furnishings; and provide to households in need coming out of crisis. Households within Collin County and elsewhere are referred by other nonprofits, churches, schools, government agencies and others that we have a relationship with.
Although we operate 365 days a year, our core time is every Saturday morning. We welcome volunteers and service-minded people to join us until noon.
How extensive is the need? We provide furnishing of homes connected through referrals by over 250 agencies. We pick up donations in over 1,200 homes and deliver into over 750 households in need per year. We provide service opportunities for over 50 faith-based groups, service organization chapters, corporate and municipal groups, and those completing court-mandated service hours.
Pre-COVID, Bed Start delivered over 1,700 beds. We’re on track this year for 1,500 beds.
That’s amazing. How has COVID impacted you? It has affected us, both good and not so good. Initially, our volunteer base dropped significantly but has picked back up. To continue operations with no shutdown, we established ourselves as an essential business and persevered with strong distancing and health and safety measures.
We have witnessed this shrinking of resources for the most vulnerable population, causing increased problems in domestic violence cases and homelessness. In the meantime, we’re pushing on with an ever-increasing wait list, with wait times measured in months while people are sleeping on floors or pallets, until a bed and furnishings are provided.
What’s your “In Bed by Christmas Eve” initiative? The cornerstone of Bed Start is to provide beds to children sleeping on floors so they would do well the next day in school. Colder weather also increases the number of doctor visits and financial hardships of households in need. In Bed by Christmas Eve provides a donation stream to draw down the number of households waiting on beds.
In years past, Bed Start had sponsors that matched $1 for $1, but due to the economy this year, will not.
Do all donations go directly toward beds? All monetary donations go 100% toward the purchase of beds and bedding. Bed Start is a 100% volunteer group with no overhead cost, rent or property costs and no salaries, so [all the money] goes directly to the need.
You mentioned that having a bed is good for school performance. In what other ways does providing a bed for someone help them? Having your own bed provides dignity and self-worth. Not only does it provide a good night’s sleep to be mentally awake the next day and physically healthy, it nourishes body, mind and soul.
It’s not just about actually sleeping. Right. A bed is not just an immediate solution but, longer term, it provides a haven to call your own—whether in the transitional living homes we support and furnish, or an apartment where each sibling can have their own space.
It must be rewarding for those who donate. With many agencies just asking people to contribute [money] and [donors] not knowing exactly what trickles down to the real need, our donors witness a volunteer base determined to make the world a better place straight away. Children in donor homes give more unconditionally [in other ways]; adults giving up their generational possessions know it goes directly to a need rather than sitting in a nonprofit resale shop or thrift store; and elders know that their downsizing has benefits for the community at large.
Likewise, when crews show up at a delivery, the recipient household witnesses the unconditional care and compassion people have for them. It’s not just a delivery truck with paid staff.
How can our readers show that care and compassion in their own communities? Serve unconditionally and love thy neighbor. Meet citizens other than the ones that look, sound and talk the same [as you]. Engage and don’t just write a check, fill a collection bin or buy a gift card—transferring responsibility to others. Bring your grandparents and children and serve the community as a family, create stories and build a new generation to heal this fractured world.
Want to help Bed Start? Visit bedstart.org to find out how to make a furniture donation, join the volunteer delivery team or contribute financially.
Photo courtesy of Bill Brunken.