When 4-year-old Ryleigh Genn lay down to sleep, her head sank deep into a fluffy pillow as she stretched out on bright pink Tinkerbell sheets, clutching a matching blanket around her.
Just the night before, the preschooler had shared an air mattress with the rest of her family and before that, she slept on a crib mattress with two other siblings.
On this night, however, her bed was a sweet dream come true.
The little girl, three of her four siblings and her mother, Candace Genn, 37, recently received beds and bedding from Hope Chest OKC.
The Yukon-based ministry provides beds, bedding, dining tables and chairs to struggling families around the metro.
The ministry’s director, Dena Nason, and a small group of volunteers delivered a queen bed, three twin beds, a toddler bed and crib bedding for the Genn family on a recent Saturday morning.
For Nason, one man’s chore — making up the bed — is another man’s labor of love.
That’s why the group not only set up the beds, but they put sheets, pillowcases and blankets on each of them.
While Ryleigh received bedding fit for the princess of the house, her brother, Xander, 2, had his toddler bed outfitted with cartoon-themed bedding. Big brother Joshua, 16, who is ill, received a cushioned mattress set and black and gray bedding befitting a teenage boy, while his brother, Dylan, 8, couldn’t stop running his hands across his Batman-themed blanket and sheets.
“It helps make their house into a home,” Nason said.
Candace Genn, her eyes glistening with tears, agreed.
She said she moved to the metro area from out of state and planned to live with friends who invited her and her children to stay with them as she attempted to refocus in the aftermath of divorce. Genn said her friends’ home burned down just as she and the children were on a bus bound for Oklahoma so they just recently found an apartment with help from a local social service agency. The single mom said she gave birth to her daughter, Chloe, just weeks ago and she wondered how her growing family’s sleeping arrangements would be worked out with very little money.
As Hope Chest OKC volunteers gathered in a circle and prayed for her family, Genn said she had begun to feel that she’d made the wrong decision to attempt a fresh start in a different state.
However, she said the compassionate help of the Hope Chest volunteers successfully quashed those pessimistic thoughts.
“It actually feels like a home instead of somewhere where we’re just crashing,” said Genn.
“I can actually tell them to go to bed,” she added, grinning.
Nason said Hope Chest OKC was originally started in 2008 by Cissa Newberry of Edmond. Nason, who lives in Yukon, said she began volunteering for the ministry in 2010, coordinating deliveries from a metro warehouse where volunteers stored assorted donations of beds, bedding and other household items.
Working with the fledgling ministry, Nason said she and her husband, Ward, were surprised to learn that a bed is considered a luxury item for some individuals and families. As the Nasons and other volunteers made their deliveries, they learned that some people had shelter, but too few beds or no beds at all, much less nice sheets, pillows and blankets.
“You wouldn’t think that so many people don’t have a bed,” Dena Nason said.
“A bed is another thing to help you sleep better, to make the day better. It helps them regroup.”
Nason took the helm of the Hope Chest OKC ministry in 2011.
She said she liked the ministry’s premise, which hearkens back to the centuries-old tradition that had young brides collecting items for their future household in a trunk or chest. This often included heirloom items passed down from one generation to the next, as well as practical household goods for use in the home a young woman “hoped” for.
Nason said many people don’t have families that are in a position to help provide household items like beds and sheets for young families or families in transition.
She said the ministry no longer provides items like pots and pans and dishes because it became too cumbersome to do so, but beds and bedding are a staple for the ministry, and when they have one available, they supply dining tables and chairs.
April Styers, Nason’s assistant, said the ministry’s goal is pretty simple: “We want to get everyone off the floor and everyone around the table.”
Styers and Nason said the ministry accepts referrals from nonprofit organizations like Neighborhood Services Organization, the Homeless Alliance, Wonderfully Made Foundation, Hope House OKC and the YWCA.
Lisa Miller-Baldwin, founder and executive director of the Wonderfully Made Foundation, said Hope Chest OKC supplied household items for the foundation’s second transitional living house.
She said the ministry also has helped numerous families who made the leap from the foundation’s transitional housing to permanent housing.
She said the beds and other items provided by the ministry are a godsend to families who lack money for such things.
Also, the donated goods often keep them from obtaining the furnishing from a rent-to-own business and incurring debt that they really can’t afford, she said.
“It has been very instrumental for families that leave a shelter or transitional living with nothing. They bless them with something to start them out with,” Miller-Baldwin said.
Stacey Ninness, president and CEO of Neighborhood Services Organization, said nonprofits who offer a housing component are often hard-pressed to find enough furniture donations to meet the needs of their clients.
“Obviously when you’re transitioning someone from homelessness, furniture is really vital,” Ninness said.
She said individuals graduate from the organization’s furnished transitional housing to an apartment or another residence of their own, but this major accomplishment can be worrisome because there’s no money for home furnishings.
“It becomes a huge budgeting issue because they’re barely able to pay their deposit,” she said.
For Alvin Reed, 36, and his wife and daughter, Hope Chest OKC’s aid was a lifesaver because the family’s recent relocation from another state to Yukon left them with no beds. He said they previously lived in a furnished home.
“It was a blessing because I had tried everyone else,” Reed said of the ministry’s donation of a queen bed and twin bed on a recent Saturday.
“I want them to know that I really appreciate them.”
How to help
Hope Chest OKC
The nonprofit ministry called Hope Chest OKC accepts donations of the following items: bed frames of all sizes, mattress covers, blankets, new pillows, age/gender specific bedding for children, sheets of all sizes, new or gently used mattresses (no stains, major wear or tears), box springs of all sizes, kitchen tables and chairs and Bibles. Monetary donations also are accepted.
To donate, call 204-9108 or email Dena Nason at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information about Hope Chest OKC, go to www.hopechestokc.org.