Lisa Wilkins began collecting and delivering beds to children in need 13 years ago, shortly after the Sun Prairie area school district restructured elementary school boundaries.
The idea of providing beds for children in need arose out of a desperate need in our community. Wilkins recounts how parents in his neighborhood were determined to be “part of the solution” as their children made their way to their new school, Westside Elementary.
So she came in and met with the principal of the school to see how all of these parents could help. The principal sent her to see the school social worker, and the words the school social worker said left a lasting impression.
“This poor social worker was having a rough day,” Wilkins said. “His answer to me was” I have children who have not eaten since they left school yesterday, I have children who do not know where their backpacks are because their family has slept on a friend’s couch last night, and I have kids who are really just exhausted because they’re sleeping on the floor… .how do you all want to help? ‘ Honestly, all I could understand from what she said was that there were children sleeping on the floor. I knew it was something we could help.
Wilkins returned home and emailed his neighborhood parent group and found enough beds, sheets, pillows and blankets to meet the needs of the eight children the social worker had told him about.
After these children had all had beds, she reported to the social worker, who replied, “This is great! I have 10 other children who I now know are sleeping on the floor.
The social worker nicknamed Wilkins her “bed lady” and since that day, 13 years ago, Wilkins and her team of volunteers have provided beds and bedding for Sun Prairie children in every school in the district.
In most years, this includes serving 100 or more children.
“Most of us take a warm, clean bed for granted,” Wilkins explained.
“But, when you see a kid getting really excited about a lightly used Hello Kitty sheet set, or a high school kid hugging you and crying because he’s never had his own bed before,” Wilkins added, “it changes your heart.”
The program has grown and changed over the years to better serve children.
Sunshine Place added the Bed Lady program under its service umbrella about eight years ago.
Currently, the program is providing a double mattress and platform frame, as well as a set of sheets, a blanket, a quilt and a new pillow for any child in need in the area school district. by Sun Prairie.
Referrals to the program come from school and community social workers.
“Sun Prairie’s generosity has kept this program going,” said Wilkins. “Each time, we needed something; Sun Prairie has responded so we can continue to help the kids get a good night’s sleep.
Ashley Home Store has been a great partner of the Bed Lady program over the years, helping with bulk orders, low prices, and bed donations.
Gorilla Movers in Sun Prairie has also been a great partner of The Bed Lady, helping trucks and delivery drivers who could give a little muscle with every bed delivery.
Two years ago Wilkins started talking about her retirement as Bed Lady.
“I didn’t want to end the program,” she said. “But, I’m old, and these mattresses are getting heavier and heavier, I think!”
A group of volunteers met to discuss the future of the program, led by Charlotte Kuchan of Sunshine Place.
The group decided the program was too valuable for the children of Sun Prairie to abandon it.
“Sunshine Place is grateful for the incredible program Lisa has created and honored to continue the program serving families in the Sun Prairie community. “Kuchan said.
Community members Tina Feaster and Courtney Cantrell-Ober now oversee a team of volunteers who worked with Wilkins to understand the process of getting the area kids off the ground.
“I am impressed with all of the work Lisa has put into creating and running this program over the past 13 years,” said Feaster.
“She has made an incredible difference in the lives of so many children and families,” added Feaster, “and I am honored to be a part of the team going forward.”
“I am absolutely touched by the generosity of our community,” said Cantrell-Ober. “In addition to the beds themselves, we can choose bedding suited to their ages… and often even their color preferences! There is something so precious to me that it feels special for these children. I am impressed with everything Lisa has done and I am so proud to be a part of it “
“I loved every second of my time as ‘The Bed Lady’,” Wilkins said recently.
“I’m sad to let it go,” added WIlkins, “but knowing that the program will grow and prosper with the team that is now in place is a great feeling.”
Wilkins also wants the program to continue under the new leadership.
“I hope Sun Prairie will remember his incredible generosity,” added Wilkins, “and continue to donate to the program because the need is still so great in this community. . . to see this program able to continue to help kids get a good night’s sleep so they can feel good, do better in school and thrive would be the best retirement gift ever! “