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Pay it Forward: Organization builds beds for bedless children in East Tennessee

Bill Thompson couldn't believe how great the need was in his own backyard.

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — "I have a view!" Andrew Martin declared as he climbed onto the top bunk of his new bed.

Before this welcome delivery, Andrew and his 5-year-old little brother, Brayden, slept on the floor in their family's Lonsdale home. 

"They slept on the floor on an air mattress," said their mother, Maria Martin. "Sometimes we shared with them. We'd give them the floor one night, and we'd take the floor the next night. We all just shared one big air mattress." 

Martin knew her sons weren't getting the sleep they needed to succeed in school, but times are hard for the family, so she turned to Facebook for help.

"I was asking for a bed on Facebook, and [Facebook users] told me about this wonderful organization," Martin said, gesturing to a man named Bill Thompson.

Thompson wore a light blue 'Sleep In Heavenly Peace' T-shirt with the phrase, 'no kid sleeps on the floor in our town,' scrawled across the back in black block letters.

In 2018, Thompson, a retiree looking for a way to give back to his community, opened the Knoxville chapter of Sleep in Heavenly Peace, an organization that builds and donates beds to needy children. 

He was shocked by how many other families were in the Martins' situation. Theirs, sadly, wasn't unique. 

"Some requests will just tear your heart out. You just can't imagine that in our country, this happens," Thompson said.

Credit: WBIR
Bill Thompson places wooden slats on the top bunk of the Martins' new bed.

"At the moment, we've got about 88 bed requests that are waiting. We have a very small inventory of beds," Thompson said, adding that the bread and butter of the SHP organization are what they call 'build days' where companies, volunteers and community leaders come together to assemble all the pieces needed for wooden bed frames. 

"We take a stack of lumber and cut it, sand it, drill it. We put our brand on it, and we stain it. We don’t actually put the bed together until we make the delivery, but we build the pieces for it," Thompson said. 

Credit: WBIR
SHP volunteers deliver a bunk bed to the Martin family.

The next Build Day is scheduled for Feb. 29 at 10 a.m. at Halls High School. Thompson said the event usually lasts between two and three hours depending on the number of volunteers.

Thompson hopes to grow the program, so they can provide more beds to families like the Martins. 

"Seeing the kids' faces, that's precious. That's priceless. That's the best part about it," Thompson said. 

Credit: WBIR
Brayden and Andrew Martin ride scooters while they wait for their new bed.

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