What could have been a simple night at the movies turned into a ministry that has affected hundreds of students in Shelby County, Kentucky.
After seeing the movie The Blind Side around Christmas 2009, Jessica Collins, now 14 years old and a member of First Presbyterian Church in Shelbyville, Ky., was struck by a scene in which a high school football player says that he’s never had a bed before. Although her family traditionally bought gifts for an angel tree every Christmas, Collins asked her grandmother if they could instead buy a bed that year.
That one act has grown into A Place to Sleep, which has provided beds to more than 370 students in Shelby County.
“Once they get a bed from us, their grades come up and they stop falling asleep in class,” Collins said. “It’s made my eyes more open to my surroundings, just knowing that kids in my classroom don’t have beds.”
Students can be without beds for many reasons, including house fires, bed bug infestations and being forced to leave abusive households, Collins said. A Place to Sleep, an official ministry of First Presbyterian Church, works with school officials to identify students in need of beds.
Local businesses and volunteers from student organizations and other churches donate money, materials and time to the ministry.
“It’s just a community-wide effort,” said Lynn Whittaker, Collins’ grandmother and active volunteer. “(The church) has been very supportive through prayer and encouragement and they’ve also made donations.”
One member of First Church owns a fabric shop and sponsored a bedspread-making workshop, donating the fabric and use of the shop’s sewing machines. A local furniture store sells mattresses to the ministry at cost and helps with deliveries.
Each donation includes a bed frame, mattress and box springs, pillow, linens and a bed bug cover. Most of the beds are twin single or bunk beds.
Carlen Pippin, a member at First Presbyterian, helps with deliveries and donates the use of the enclosed trailer he formerly used to take on fishing trips to Canada.
“I don’t know how it could’ve been retired to a better purpose,” he said. “I’ve been blessed with the opportunity to do something for children. I thank the good Lord every day.”
Collins said her faith in God has helped her keep going when she was unsure if A Place to Sleep would have enough resources to help those in need.
“We’ll pray about it and within the next couple of days, someone will give us $1,000,” she said. “There’s no way that a human could do it. It’s obviously God shining down.”
A Place to Sleep has spread beyond Shelby County. In 2013, it was recognized by Make a Difference Day, a national day of community service sponsored by USA WEEKEND magazine and Points of Light. A Place to Sleep was one of 10 organizations to win $10,000 toward its work. Collins was selected to be on the cover of the April 6 edition of USA WEEKEND.
The $10,000 award will buy several bedding packages, which cost about $500 each, Collins said.
Many people complain about younger generations, but Collins and others like her give him faith in the future, Pippin said.
“We’ve got to support them,” he said. “They just have a different way of doing things.”
Collins hopes A Place to Sleep will eventually expand to other counties and states and encouraged other youth to get involved in causes they feel passionate about.
“If you have an idea, tell somebody,” she said. “It can become bigger than you expected.”