Sharing beds and furnishings with neighbors in need
By Sonia Duggan
It’s 7:30 a.m. on a Saturday morning in a parking lot across the street from Custer Road United Methodist Church in Plano. Cars and trucks file in, many carrying sleepy teenagers needing last minute service hours. Multiple work trailers sit packed, ready to hitch to volunteers’ trucks as groups gather awaiting their instructions.
For Doug Nickols, director of the nonprofit ministry Bed Start, it’s just another Saturday. He’s been working since 6:30 a.m. unlocking storage sheds and making last minute adjustments to trailers preloaded two days prior.
Slowly everyone assembles in the parking lot waiting for orders. Clipboard in hand, Nickols walks intently around, unfazed by the pressure. He speaks to the groups, matching up names on volunteer lists, then hands out
directions and assignments. Without fanfare, they depart just as quickly as they arrived, ready to deliver a load of furniture to a family in need or pick up furniture from a donor that will be repurposed for a family.
“Plano does not have enough social services to meet the growing needs of those that can’t support themselves,” Nickols said. “It is the goal of Bed Start to provide beds, dressers, tables, living room furniture, and other home essentials to all our neighbors in need.”
On this particular Saturday, despite the threat of rain, Bed Start volunteers had 22 donation pickups, which is typical, says Nickols, with nine of those pickups going directly to households in need. “Some items come back to storage and will be delivered with other items
either Wednesday night on the Custer Road UMC route(s), or next Saturday,” he said. “Yesterday, we had 15 invitations into households that we provided beds and furnishings to. On a normal Saturday, we deliver to between 10 and 13.”
A large group of teens were on hand that day volunteering with their moms as part of Young Men’s Service League, a philanthropic organization of young men who do service projects with their moms. Most of the boys are seniors, getting their last service hours completed before the school year ends. Denise Crawford, a mom of a son in the Prosper chapter, said they’ve been serving with Bed Start for three years; four times per year. “The boys are humbled and overwhelmed seeing kids raised with little or nothing. It’s good for our
boys to go in and be a part of that,” she said. “There’s been a couple (of families) that we’ve stayed in touch with. We go back a month later and bring them gift cards and check on them.”
Harry Hixson said he’s been volunteering in different capacities with the church for 40 years. Though his back can’t tolerate heavy lifting anymore, Hixson mans the shed while volunteers are out delivering or when they bring back a delivery. In addition, he fixes any donated items that need minor repairs. Because Bed Start is not in the business of storing donated items, they have a long wait list of households in need. Nickols personally does the furniture inventory after he is finished with all the deliveries each Saturday. “We have no showroom, thrift store or warehouse. Just a shed about the size of 3-car garage on an overflow parking lot of a church,” he said.
Since 1995, Bed Start has been helping households in poverty, crisis or need by providing household furnishings at no cost. Originally called Head Start Bed Start, the organization was a result of a partnership between Plano Head Start and Custer Road United Methodist Church. A local teacher and a Plano couple started collecting household furnishings to provide Head Start children and their families beds for a good night’s sleep. For the next five years 500 beds were provided to families in need but eventually the program lagged due to transportation issues.
In 2008, Nickols felt called to serve the Plano community and decided to resurrect the program. It was renamed Bed Start and they became a 501c3 nonprofit. Today the organization serves a vital role to neighbors in need during crisis or transition by providing household items that are gently used or new at no cost.
As local social service agencies partnered with Bed Start, the geographic area has expanded over the years to support surrounding communities other than Plano. Bed Start now is a community partner with many national and international organizations, having delivered throughout the world. “We partner with over 280 agencies in Collin and Dallas Counties to serve their communities and 100s of nonprofits who provide connections; including schools, crisis centers, churches, food pantries, CPS, VA, and more,” Nickols said.
As Executive Director, Nickols is an intense hands-on guy who does almost everything Bed Start related including taking donation and pickup requests. Until 2017 he juggled a full-time job and management of the nonprofit.
“I lost my last job two years ago and now do Bed Start (non-paying gig) about 60 hours a week,” he said. “Also, I have a couple of other self-employment businesses that consume about 20 hours a week.”
As Collin County grows and housing prices rise, so do the needs of the cities.
“We all find it difficult to meet our monthly fixed expenses of food, shelter and clothing, leaving little money for unplanned expenses and necessary home furnishings,” Nickols said.
There are opportunities for growth and expansion for Bed Start partners to better serve local communities.
While many churches have partnered with Bed Start, more churches are always needed. These partnerships are essential to make the program work and to be able to serve the volume of people they do. Custer Road UMC serves Plano on Wednesday evenings. “Ideally, we’ d like to have faith-based groups cover their turf – either with or without transportation,” Nickols said. “We have enough trailers we can preload with items and they can hook up with their vehicle to pull in order to deliver into their territory. This works great for a small faith-based group to get out into their community and be invited into homes of people they would probably not connect with even on Easter and Christmas Eve.”
Frisco and McKinney are particularly high demand areas. First United Methodist Church Frisco covered all of Frisco and some of McKinney’s deliveries Saturday. “Only one Frisco household is left on the list and we received a sleeper sofa today for that and it will go out Saturday,” he said. “I have already received two additional fresh requests within the Frisco area, so I can’t say we are caught up yet.”
Stonebridge UMC serves once a month delivering to McKinney. Bed Start does a weekly McKinney route just to keep up, Nickols reported, and they typically have a 10-household backup on the wait list for the city.
Any denomination of church is welcome to join, though many participating churches are Methodist. “Chase Oaks and One Community Church get involved on a non-periodic basis, but typically don›t have trucks or trailers,” he said. “Farmersville FUMC, Anna FUMC and Melissa UMC cover their turf when requests come in from their turf.”
Bed Start has partnered with Princeton CUMC for years says Nickols. Pastor Paige Christian first learned of the nonprofit organization when her family attended church at Custer Road UMC in Plano. “Our family served, and continues to serve, with Bed Start. It is an amazing organization serving people in need all over the DFW Metroplex,” she said.
If anyone requests help in the Princeton area, the director contacts Christian, who follows up with the requestor to schedule a pickup or delivery date and get a crew together to move the furniture items. Crew members are typically a combination of Christ UMC Princeton and Christ UMC Plano volunteers.
“In addition to Bed Start items, our Christ UMC Princeton women’s sewing group makes blankets that are given, as available, to Bed Start families,” Christian said. “We are the hands and feet of Christ, extending His love to those in need. This is a great opportunity for volunteers to serve and give back to the community and make a difference in the life of someone in need. Our crew lends an ear, prays with, and invites Bed Start families to church if they do not have a church home.”
Bed Start crews gather at scheduled times with crew leaders, primarily delivering on Saturday mornings when they need the most volunteers to serve. Bed Start accepts donations through a service crew sent to an individual’s home by appointment. Although they are based out of Plano, their geographic area for pickups extends to all of Collin County, most of Dallas County, and into eastern Denton and Tarrant Counties. They assign routes based on location, and Dallas routes are assigned on Wednesday night. Bed Start emphasizes donated household items must be in good condition so those on the receiving end can maintain their self-worth and dignity during a difficult time of their lives.
Getting started as a volunteer “Bedhead” is easy. You do not need to be able to lift heavy furniture or drive a vehicle – just an investment of time, energy, and heart, says the website. Bed Start volunteers are a diverse group and often the experience helps break barriers and build relationships between volunteers and families in need.
“We do require that those who serve pass our background screening, but all other skills and knowledge are taught in our onsite training program,” Nickols said. “Orientation occurs the first day of service – just show up.”