Bloomington Bed Blitz expands to help more families

By Dave Fidlin For Chronicle Media

One of the programs within the West Bloomington Revitalization Project is The Tool Library which is a free tool lending program designed to empower residents through repair and maintenance. The program organized the Bed Blitz project. (Photo courtesy of West Bloomington Revilatization)

It was a statistic that even surprised one of the leaders of a nonprofit organization dedicated to serving Bloomington residents in need.

But survey after survey revealed hundreds of children, many on the city’s west end, lack suitable places to sleep at night within their homes.

“That’s an important piece of information and is always something that stood out to us,” said Robert Bosquez, community engagement coordinator with the nonprofit organization West Bloomington Revitalization Project.

“Many families have identified beds as one of their greatest needs,” Bosquez said. “We eventually discovered just how pervasive a problem it is.”

WBRP, which is entering its 10th year as an incorporated organization, has become known around town for its unique program, The Tool Library, which gives residents an opportunity to check out a range of tools for up to a week to partake in home improvement projects.

Piggy-backing off the success of The Tool Library, Bosquez and other organizers decided to do something meaningful to address the community’s bed shortage. The answer was Bed Blitz, which took place last fall for the first time.

With assistance from a robust volunteer force, recipients of the beds rolled up their sleeves and helped make the furniture. In the inaugural go-around, WBRP was able to secure enough donated funds and ancillary supplies to make 40 beds.

The scenario was bittersweet for Ryan Heeren, co-director of The Tool Library, who had a part in determining who would receive the beds after an application process closed.

“We received over a hundred applications last year,” Heeren said. “We, unfortunately, had to whittle it down, and it was emotional and painstaking.”

The West Bloomington Revitalization Project began in 2007 as a joint venture of businesses, community groups and private and public sector organizations. (Photo courtesy of West Bloomington Revilatization)

This fall, when Bed Blitz returns for a second go-around, Heeren and other volunteers within WBRP are hoping to reach a wider pool of applicants. A recent grant award has given organization leaders confidence up to 80 new beds will be available on the next Bed Blitz day, slated for Oct. 14.

Manufacturing firm Bernzomatic recently announced WBRP was a runner-up in its Find Your Fire community grants program. The organization was specifically singled out for Bed Blitz and working to meet a community need.

With the momentum under way, Bosquez said the goal is to make Bed Blitz a yearly community tradition.

Bosquez is quick to credit an assortment of companies and volunteers who have made Bed Blitz possible.

Manufacturer Tempur-Pedic, for example, agreed to sell mattresses to WBRP at cost, and a local quilting group has pledged to make custom bedspreads for each of this fall’s recipients.

“The outpouring of support (from the community) has been amazing,” Bosquez said. “What’s amazing about something like this is that it brings people from all walks of life together.”

Heeren said The Tool Library continues to enjoy its own evolution. It has a membership base of 1,150 persons and has amassed an inventory of 1,100 tools, which run the gamut from hammers, saws, pressure washers and chainsaws.

The concept of a tool library, which has the same open and no-cost lending principles as book libraries, began on the east and west coasts and has begun sprouting up in the center of the country as well.

Heeren said Bloomington was the first city in Illinois to host a library for tools. At least one other, in Carbondale, has since started up.

“It’s been great seeing this concept pop up all over the country,” Heeren said.




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