When you build a bed for a child, you build a safe shelter off a cold floor, a lumpy couch, or away from a bed crowded with siblings. You build support.
And in the case of the Salmon River Teachers Association, you build a bond between school and community; between educators and families.
For the Salmon River TA, manifesting a Build-a-Bed project also built union solidarity. The local donated money for the project, and teachers, school counselors, social workers, nurses and psychologists donated time, skill, labor and bedding. At an enclosed pavilion in the nearby town of Bombay, union members spent two summer days building 16 spruce beds for students in need and delivering them to their homes.
“We brought power saws, drills, hammers and tape measures,” said Adam Schrader, local president.
Smith Lumber in Fort Covington donated the lumber for the first 10 beds, and sold the rest of the wood at cost, Schrader said. One bed was pre-assembled as a model for the union member volunteers to follow while building each bed. All of the hardware was wrapped in packets for each unit. Wooden slats provided support for the mattresses.
Some of the pre-cut wood for the beds had to be shortened so younger kids would be able to safely clamber into their new bed, Schrader said.
Using a flatbed truck and a trailer, the finished beds were loaded up and delivered to students in different towns within the district and on the Akwesasne Reservation, which houses the district’s Mohawk School. Each mattress, donated by Fleming’s Fine Furniture in Malone, came wrapped in plastic — a bonus since it began pouring as the beds were dropped off.
“It was an absolute downpour,” said Schrader. While rainfall can obstruct vision, this one cleared it. “It was eye-opening to see where some of students live and how they live. These are hard times, and there’s not a strong economic base here. It’s hard to earn a living wage if you’re not in public service. And this economic downturn (from the pandemic) has made things worse.”
Salmon River TA President Adam Schrader signs bed frames with a special message from the union to each of the students. Photo provided.
More requests have since come in. “Families and students have reached out to us since we delivered the initial large batch of beds this summer,” Schrader said.
Home school coordinator Hailey Cartier, a member of the Salmon River TA, worked with a community-school liaison and CSEA attendance supervisor to see which families were interested in getting a bed. Cartier said because she has visited so many homes — including food drop offs during the pandemic shutdown — she had a good idea what families might need one. A few said no — they wanted other families to have one — but others were amazed. “Some of them cried ... some of them didn’t believe it,” Cartier said.
Each bed was outfitted with blankets, sheets and pillows donated by SRTA members. Students were contacted to see what color and theme they wanted for their new bedding.
The inspiration for the Build-a-Bed project came from the South Jefferson Teachers Association, Schrader said. The local shared information about a similar undertaking at a regional NYSUT conference. So when the Salmon River TA became a participant in NYSUT’s Local Action Project — a three-year program for local unions to build member and community engagement — building beds for students became part of their plans.
With time constraints and so much to achieve, other union projects came first: community dinners, movie nights, Thanksgiving food giveaways, winter holiday raffles, and an annual Health and Wellness Jamboree. The local held midwinter social events for members to boost morale and to collect food for the local food pantry.
“Then the pandemic cleared our schedule,” Schrader said. No more social events could be held. “So we got out our original LAP plan.”
And there, in black and white, was the bed project. Waiting, like a messy bed, to be made.