When children are abused, abandoned or neglected, someone needs to step forward and provide compassionate, unwavering care in loco parentis.
In 2001, I met a local grandmother who was willing to welcome her grandchild into her home instead of having the court system assign that child to a stranger’s home. There was just one problem – she didn’t have an extra bed, and the Florida Department of Children & Families requires a bed before the court can grant temporary custody.
So I donated a bed from my own home.
Since then, nearly 3,000 Southwest Florida youth have been helped through Bedz for Kidz, a program now managed through Guardian ad Litem Foundation, 20th Judicial Circuit. Many more selfless individuals across Lee, Collier, Charlotte, Hendry and Glades counties have room in their hearts and homes to shelter a child, but need an extra bed to be approved as foster parents or guardians.
Over the years, the stories we’ve heard from children are both heartwarming and heartbreaking. I remember a precious 5-year-old girl who was placed in a home with a brand-new bed, and her comment was “Now I don’t have to sleep in the bathtub anymore!” Then there was a boy who was severely burned by his father, and we went out of our way to make sure he had a nice, comfortable bed with deluxe linens, pillows and blankets to help in his recovery. His response – Is there someone more deserving that needs this bed?
These children have been through so much trauma, heartbreak and uncertainty in their lives. Their parents may have abused them. Their parents may be drug users, alcoholics or behind bars. Guardian ad Litem and the Guardian ad Litem Foundation are there to help, providing trained volunteers who serve as a child’s voice as they navigate the judicial, education and child welfare system. The Foundation’s Children’s Needs Program provides funds so children can still have birthday parties, go to the movies or visit an amusement park while in foster care or a temporary setting.
Bedz for Kidz started with that first donation, and it’s grown into a community-wide initiative. Although I still do most of the shopping and fundraising, and my husband, John, assembles beds and furniture, so many community partners have stepped forward to help. Rotary and Kiwanis clubs, as well as Realtor associations, have provided monetary donations. The Southwest Florida Quilters Guild sews quilts and Project Linus has provided blankets. Price Cutter Furniture offers discounts that help stretch donations.
Although we’ve delivered nearly 3,000 beds, our work is not done. There are more grandparents, relatives and future foster parents willing to open their hearts and homes, but they need a bed – or two or three – to make sure siblings aren’t split apart. Keeping brothers and sisters together should be a priority.
To continue reaching more youth, Bedz for Kidz relies on generous donations to purchase cribs, twin, double and bunk beds, as well as dressers, lamps and end tables. We also accept donations of new linens, including sheets, pillowcases, blankets and throws featuring children’s characters – princesses and superheroes are especially loved by the children.
For more information about the Bedz for Kidz program and donor opportunities, please visit VoicesForKids.org or call 239-533-1435.
Cynthia Shafer is a licensed Realtor with Lahaina Realty, Inc. and founder of Guardian ad Litem Foundation’s Bedz for Kidz program. She also has volunteered as a Guardian ad Litem for 25 years.