Lisa Wilkins started collecting and delivering beds to children in need thirteen years ago, shortly after the School District re-structured the elementary school boundary lines.
The idea for delivering beds to kids in need came out of a desperate need in our community. Wilkins tells the story of how parents in her neighborhood were determined to be “part of the solution” as their kids were heading off to their new school, Westside Elementary. So, she went in and met with the school principal to see how all those parents could help. The principal sent her to see the school social worker, and the words that the school social worker used left a lasting impression.
“That poor social worker was having a rough day,” Wilkins said. “Her response to me was ‘I have kids that haven’t eaten since they left school yesterday, I have kids that aren’t sure where their backpacks are because their family slept on a friends couch last night, and I have kids that are really just exhausted because they are sleeping on the floor….how do you all want to help?’ Honestly, all I could process from what she said was that there were kids sleeping on the floor.” Wilkins continued, “I knew that was something we could help with.”
Wilkins went home and sent an email to the parent group in her neighborhood, and found enough beds, sheets, pillows, and blankets to fill the needs of the eight children the social worker had told her about. Once those kids all had beds, she reported back to the social worker, who replied, “That’s great! I have another 10 kids that I now know are sleeping on the floor.” She nicknamed Wilkins her “Bed Lady”, and since that day thirteen years ago, Wilkins and her crew of volunteers have provided beds and bedding to Sun Prairie kids from every school in the district. Most years, servicing 100 kids or more.
“Most of us take a warm, clean bed for granted,” Wilkins explained. “But, when you see a child get really excited about a gently used set of Hello Kitty sheets, or a high-schooler hug you and cry because they’ve never had their own bed before, that changes your heart.”
The program has grown and changed throughout the years, to best serve the kids. Sunshine Place added The Bed Lady Program under their umbrella of services about eight years ago. Currently, the program provides a twin mattress and platform frame, along with a set of sheets, blanket, comforter and new pillow for any child in need throughout the Sun Prairie School District. Referrals to the program come in through school and community social workers. “Sun Prairie’s generosity has kept this program going,” Wilkins said. “Every time we needed anything; Sun Prairie responded so we could continue to help kids get a good night’s sleep.” Ashley HomeStore has been a great partner to this program over the years, helping with bulk orders, great pricing, and bed donations. Gorilla Movers in Sun Prairie has also been an amazing partner, helping with trucks and delivery drivers that could lend a little muscle to each delivery.
Two years ago, Wilkins began talking about retiring as The Bed Lady. “I didn’t want to end the program,” she said. “But, I’m old, and those mattresses are getting heavier, I think!” she joked.
A volunteer group was gathered to discuss the future of the program, under the leadership of Charlotte Kuchan from Sunshine Place. The group decided the program was too valuable to Sun Prairie kids to let it go. “Sunshine Place is grateful for the incredible program Lisa created and honored to continue the program to serve families in the Sun Prairie Community,” Kuchan said.
Community members Tina Feaster and Courtney Cantrell-Ober now oversee a team of volunteers that have worked with Wilkins to understand the process of getting area kids up off the floor.
“I’m in awe of all the work Lisa has put into creating and running this program for the last 13 years,” Feaster said. “She’s made an incredible difference in the lives of so many children and families and I’m honored to be a part of the team going forward.”
“I’m absolutely humbled by the generosity of our community,” Cantrell-Ober shared. “In addition to the actual beds, we are able to choose bedding tailored to their ages…and often, even their color preferences! There is something so precious to me about making it feel special for these kids. I’m in awe of everything Lisa has done and feel so proud to be a part of it”
“I have loved every second of my time as ‘The Bed Lady’,” Wilkins said recently, “I’m sad to let it go, but knowing the program will grow and flourish with the team that’s now in place is a great feeling.” She added, “My hope is that Sun Prairie will remember it’s amazing generosity, and continue to donate to the program because the need is still so great in this community…..seeing this program able to continue helping kids get a good night’s sleep so they can feel good, do better at school, and thrive would be the best retirement gift ever!”