Ja’zon Reece, who’s almost 3 years old, leaned over and made a small opening in the blinds to look out the window for the two deliverymen from the Society of St. Vincent de Paul carrying mattresses into his apartment.
Ja’zon’s mom, Annita Baker, and her three children now have their own apartment after living with relatives and sleeping in the same bed.
The one-bedroom unit in north St. Louis is clean and bright, with new flooring. But it’s unfurnished and Baker struggles to pay for housing and food. She’s hoping a friend will repair her car when he has time. Until then, she’s taking as many as three Metro Transit buses and a train each day in a five-hour round trip to get to her retail job in west St. Louis County.
“Even though I have a job, I need help,” Baker said.
Seeking assistance with an old electric bill before she could move in, she contacted the Society of St. Vincent de Paul through the school attended by her other children, ages 11 and 7. Volunteers from St. Anselm Parish visited Baker and offered assistance for the bill and vouchers from the society’s thrift store for clothing, household items and beds.
In 2015, the Society of St. Vincent de Paul’s Archdiocesan Council of St. Louis created a program to provide beds to people. Included with the mattresses are new sheet sets, blankets and pillows. Funds to purchase beds are from donations to the Society.
The program provides for families whose lives have been disrupted by eviction, domestic violence or other emergencies. When Vincentian volunteers visit homes, they often find deplorable sleeping conditions. If there are beds, they are unsanitary, inadequate or overcrowded, said John Foppe, executive director of the archdiocesan council. Since many families don’t have access to basic resources and seek only to survive from crisis to crisis, saving to purchase adequate beds isn’t a priority, he said.
Studies show that even small amounts of sleep loss can have a significantly negative impact on health, mood, cognitive ability, and productivity levels. “Sleep Deprivation in Adolescents and Adults: Changes in Affect,” by Lisa S. Talbot, Eleanor L. McGlinchey, Katherine A. Kaplan, Ronald E. Dahl, and Allison G. Harvey showed that sleep deprivation reduces positive affect across an array of positive emotions. It increases anxiety, and early adolescents appear to be particularly vulnerable. A National Sleep Foundation poll showed 65 percent of Americans agree that sleep contributes to the next day’s effectiveness.
“The lack of decent rest and the indignity of going without basic resources has an enormous impact on the poor,” Foppe said.
St. Vincent de Paul in St. Louis neither accepts nor sells used, donated mattresses but instead partners with Chicago Mattress Company to produce remanufactured mattresses, which consist of recycled innersprings and custom-made, all-new covers, foam and fibers. Each is tested to ensure it meets Consumer Product Safety Commission standards for comfort and quality.
Jack Hodge, a member of the St. Anselm conference who visited the Baker apartment, said the bed program is “a true blessing. We’re able to get people off the floor. There’s nothing more discouraging for a family than to not have beds.”
He thanks donors to the program: “We seem to visit folks who are in the the most difficult shape. Giving them beds is a great first step. It’s not the end of the journey, but we hope the families we visit get to the point where they’re self-sufficient. That’s the key to how things work here.”
>> Providing help
The Society of St. Vincent de Paul’s Archdiocesan Council of St. Louis consists of more than 3,000 volunteer members belonging to 141 parish-based chapters known as conferences.
Volunteers make home visits to provide person-to-person services, including arranging utility and prescription drug assistance and assisting with housing and transportation needs. In fiscal year 2016, the Society assisted more than 294,000 people and provided nearly more than $6.9 million in direct aid. As a Catholic lay organization, an essential part of the Society’s work is to maintain the dignity of people being served, regardless of religion, race, ethnicity or age.
Donations can be made at www.svdpstlouis.org/donate. Checks can be sent to Society of St. Vincent de Paul – Archdiocesan Council of St. Louis, 1310 Papin St., St. Louis, MO 63103.
>>To date, the Society of St. Vincent de Paul in St. Louis has:
• provided 3,610 families with beds and bedding; 10,000 beds altogether.
• spent $525,193 to purchase mattresses for its St. Louis Neighbors in Need program.