Rees Carroll stepped into the warehouse and surveyed the room. From end to end, it was filled with bedding materials. Sheet sets were bundled neatly and placed on shelves. Headboards were stacked against an opposite wall. The rest of the space was filled with mattresses of varying sizes.
“We are going to get those cleaned and they will go right back out,” Carroll said, pointing to the mattresses.
It’s a common cycle for Carroll and his nonprofit, Operation Bedspread. Donations — mattresses and other items roll in and then they roll right back out again. Their destination — homes throughout the Golden Isles to help families unable to afford beds, primarily for children.
Unfortunately, Carroll notes, there is a dramatic need for those. He first discovered that in 2012 when he was mentoring a student at St. Simons Elementary. He was told that the child was having trouble staying awake in class. Then he discovered the heartbreaking reason behind his dozing off.
“I found out he didn’t have a bed ... he was sleeping on the floor next to his sister,” Carroll said.
Carroll knew he could not let that go on. He reached out to members of his Bible study group at St. Simons United Methodist Church. Two of those, Joey Baldwin and Dan Meyer, had long been active community volunteers with a number of local nonprofits.
“I said ‘guys I think we may have found our cause,”
They helped Carroll find his footing and establish Operation Bedspread, a certified 501©(3) organization. The group collected donated beds, cleaned them and gave one to the child Carroll was mentoring. They also gave the child’s sister a bed.
That first act of generosity sparked a movement that Carroll couldn’t have foreseen. In the years since the organization was formed, Operation Bedspread has distributed 800 beds locally since January 2013. It is a staggering figure, one that Carroll himself could never have imagined before the project started. Now however, he is acutely aware of the desperate need for beds locally — especially for children.
“I would never in a million years have pictured that children wouldn’t have a bed. It was like a light bulb went on,” he said.
Like Carroll, board member Bonnie Turner was floored when she found out the extent of the need in the community. As a mother herself, it was simply unimaginable.
“Rees sent me a video of one of the little kids getting their bed ... and they were so excited. You would just never imagine that they wouldn’t have beds,” she said.
“Bonnie and her husband donated a couple of toddler beds and I sent her the video when we delivered them,” Carroll said. “The little girl was so excited.”
Since establishing the organization, word has spread — both in terms of donations and those seeking assistance.
“They find us. DEFAX, juvenile justice, Amity House, Women’s Crisis Center, FaithWorks ... they all send us people. But mostly they find us,” he said. “The bed (donation) is word of mouth too. The financial layout of the community is really unique ... we have a lot of turnover with beds.”
Primarily, Carroll says the group wants twins and full beds. That makes transporting easier. It is also the size that most often fits the space allowed.
“In the housing projects, you can’t get a queen sized bed up the stairs,” Carroll said. “We have taken some queens but we really need twins and fulls.”
“We also take cribs and Pack and Plays,” Turner added. “It’s such a great cause. Most of us on the board have children. I have an almost four year old and a two year old ... I tell them that they have to give away some of their toys. When they don’t want to, I tell them ‘there are children who don’t even have a bed.’”
It’s something that has changed both Carroll’s perspective, as well as that of Turner and the other board members. They now fully understand the depth of the need for beds in the area.
To jumpstart the school year, Carroll and the board of Operation Bedspread are planning a kickoff fundraiser and donation event. It will be held from 3-6 p.m. Aug. 19 at Brogen’s in the Pier Village on St. Simons Island.
“We’re calling it ‘Back to School BEDlam.’ We will have a truck and be able to take beds on site,” Carroll said. “The fundraiser piece will be $20 and we’ll have some food. Suzie and the Birddogs will play. You will still have to buy your drinks but it will be a good time. We will also have t-shirts and hats. We are going to have to buy more mattresses so the money goes toward that.”
For Carroll, the years and the successes, have only confirmed that this was the right mission to undertake. Every time he is able to help a child, it is a feeling like none other, he said.
“There’s really nothing like it. It feels amazing they help me more than I help them really,” he said. “When you go help a child and they are so happy and grateful to just get a bed. It rejuvenates your soul.”