Inspired by the story she heard of a grandmother who was unable to take custody of her grandchild because she did not have a bed for the child, Cynthia Shafer and her husband, John, started Beds for Kids in Fort Myers, FL in 2001. The program provides foster children around with a new bed and bedding, including delivery and set-up. Up to 300 new beds and bedding have been provided annually in emergency situations throughout five counties in southwest Florida. Guardian ad Litem volunteers can request a bed and bedding from Beds for Kids on behalf of children they represent.
Cynthia tells of situations where siblings have been on the verge of being separated due to the lack of beds in a foster home, and of disasters such as house fires that can displace foster children. Her cause brings stability through a simple piece of furniture. Cynthia balances her full-time job as a real estate agent with her volunteer work, handling the purchase of new beds, mattresses and sheets.
“Imagine as a child getting to sleep in a real bed,” Cynthia says. “That one piece of stability can make a huge difference for a young person in uncertain times.”
Many relatives and qualified citizens are willing to care for a child who has been removed from his or her home, but they may not be able to afford the separate bed and bedding necessary for a child’s placement to be approved by child welfare. In addition, at age 18, foster children are considered adults by the state and expected to be self-sufficient and live on their own. Eighteen-year-old foster children often do not have the resources to purchase a bed and bedding. Cynthia has struck up partnerships with groups such as Sewing Circle to create custom pillowcases and others who provide stuffed animals.
Cynthia calls every family to make the appointment for delivery and sets up the sheets and blankets to be delivered to each child. She also purchases all beds and makes the deliveries. Known around her community as “The Bed Lady,” Cynthia talks excitedly about how she and her husband load up their truck each Saturday and drive as many as 300 miles over the course of the day delivering beds to families.
“On a Saturday we might put 300 miles on our truck delivering beds,” Cynthia explains. “You see some bad stories on Monday through Friday about hard luck. Seeing how happy these children are to have a bed of their own makes Saturday worth it.”