By Andy McKeever
11:25AM / Thursday, November 29, 2018
The staff members assembled the beds and later painted them.
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — There are a lot of challenges for a family just moving into stabilized housing.
Perhaps one of the most overlooked challenges is the cost of providing beds for the children. That's why in 2012 the Massachusetts Coalition for Homeless started a "Build a Bed" program aimed to have corporate sponsors build free beds for children across the state.
"When you think of helping a child succeed, sometimes the last thing you think of is what are they sleeping in. We were so happy to identify a need such as this," said Program Director Tina Giarla.
"The expense of providing a bed for a child or each child in the household is sometimes out of reach, especially when you are covering first, last, and security and other startup costs that are so vitally important to sustain housing. What we want to do is be able to lessen the stressors."
On Wednesday, the program had its first foray in Berkshire County. The program partnered with Berkshire Bank and Berkshire Community Action Council to construct 11 beds for children this year. Berkshire Bank employees took a few hours out of their day to build the beds at the Boys and Girls Club and BCAC will then be tasked with identifying and connecting with the families who could use the extra assistance.
"They are all going to stay local, here in Pittsfield and Berkshire County, and assist local families," said Gary Levante, vice president for corporate social responsibility.
Levante said this project fits in with the company's desire to give back to the community and is one of many done throughout the year. On Wednesday, the company's loan servicing department with some 25 employees from Pittsfield and Springfield constructed the beds.
"It is a great team building opportunity for our employees," Levante said. "This is something our employees would really value and a great way for us to give back to the local community and help local children."
The project is a new one for the bank to take on but Levante said it will likely do more across its markets. The bank sponsors the build and Build a Bed provides the materials.
"It is something we take for granted every day. Having a bed to sleep in for many underresourced families, they may not have that. This initiative utilizes corporate volunteers to create beds to distribute to those in need," Levante said.
Giarla said the Lynn-based non-profit is on track to build more than 1,000 beds this year. Last year, some 2,000 children benefited from the program.
Berkshire Community Action Council will be given the completed beds at the end of the project to give out to local children.
"This last year we served over 2,000 children and since our inception in 2012 we served over 6,000 kids throughout Massachusetts," she said. "We serve families and children in Hyannis up to Haverhill to the Berkshires and everything between. Currently, we are partnering with 90 different school districts across the state."
Giarla said the majority of the referrals for beds come from school districts. She said approximately one in six children grow up in poverty and that's just the "tip of the iceberg." She said there is a significant need throughout the state for helping people to transition out of poverty and into a more stable living situation.
"This is our first entryway [in the berkshires] and we're hopeful that with continued commitment, we could continue to serve children in the Berkshires that are living in poverty without beds of their own," she said.
Giarla and Levante both echoed sentiments that providing a bed isn't just helping a family find economic stability, but also helping the children be more prepared to perform well in school and ultimately better themselves.
"You have to have a strong foundation, you have to have a strong education. If a child is going to school without a good night's sleep because they don't have a bed, they're not going to learn and they're not going to be able to achieve their full potential. At the very basic level, this is helping a child have a better education," Levante said.