by: SUBMITTED PHOTO - Left to right, bunk bed builders, Jerry Cook, Bert Cranston, Ed Minster, Joe Sawtell and Arnie Anderson get ready to enjoy a piece of bunk bed cake.Joe Sawtell blames his wife, Yvonne, but only in a good way, for getting him started building bunk beds for needy families in Clackamas County.

Back in 2006, Yvonne volunteered her husband to make one bunk bed for a family that was in desperate need. Fast forward to 2013, and the Prince of Life Lutheran Church’s Bunk Bed Ministry is going strong. In fact, the organization threw itself a party at the church on April 7, to celebrate the 100th bunk bed.

“Following the service we made a presentation and handed out cards of appreciation to all the builders and the donors,” Joe said. Pride of place was on display with a colorful cake in the shape of a bunk bed, made by Oregon City’s His Bakery.

The 100th bed, that was delivered to an Oregon City family with four children, was also special. Engraved upon it were the words “I will lie down and sleep in peace,” a line from Psalm 4:8. This will be a feature of all the bunk beds that are built from now on, Joe Sawtell said.

“We are a ministry of the Prince of Life Lutheran Church — we are a small church, but we do a lot. The women of the church make the quilts that go on the beds, the Sunday School kids make the pillows, and a group of dedicated volunteers makes the beds,” Yvonne Sawtell said, noting that not all the volunteers are members of the congregation.

The Sawtells added that they are grateful to T.R. Cauthorn, who provides all the lumber for the beds, and to John Lacey of North America Mattress Corp., who donates the mattresses.

“We pay for the foam batting at cost, and he furnishes all the labor at no charge, including the cutting and sewing and the materials for the covers,” Joe Sawtell said.

One thing the ministry needs is money, he added, saying that people started out donating tools, but now the volunteers need to replace those with new ones, including sanders and other pieces of equipment.

Yvonne Sawtell emphasized that the families who receive the beds all come from referrals from the Department of Human Services, based in Oregon City, and sometimes from the Clackamas County branch of a nonprofit organization called Love In the Name of Christ, or Love INC, a group of churches dedicated to helping the needy in their communities.

Foster kids benefit

Many of the families who benefit from the bunk beds have taken in foster children, Yvonne Sawtell said, noting that she works mostly with Vicki Pearse, a volunteer coordinator for Clackamas County with the Oregon Department of DHS, and Dan Minne, who supervises the Foster Care Certification and Adoption Unit of DHS. 

“We have been working with the Bunk Bed Ministry for at least six years. It has recently become much more accessible, due largely to Yvonne’s good work, and our foster children benefit greatly from this resource,” Pearse said.

Many times foster parents or relatives are willing to take in another child or children, but then they need additional beds for them, she added. “The Bunk Bed Ministry can make it possible for our children to have a safe place to stay with a bed of their own. These children have been impacted by abuse and neglect, so a safe place is priceless for them. Coming into state care is very stressful for children, so this security is extremely important for their well-being.

“These volunteers take on this mission with both compassion and care. The beds are carefully constructed to be safe and practical for the children. The group also delivers them to the families in need, since many of these families do not have the means or vehicles to access them otherwise. This is a service that would not exist in our county without the good hands and hearts of the Bunk Bed Ministry and its outstanding volunteers.”

Although Minne has only worked with the Bunk Bed Ministry for the past year, he said he knows a number of families who have benefited from the beds and added, “The folks at the Bunk Bed Ministry are so gracious.”

Payback is happy kids

Yvonne Sawtell remembers the smile on her husband’s face after he made the first delivery of a bunk bed seven years ago.

“He was hooked. That’s what has taken him through the 100 bunk beds; that’s our payment,” she said.

“Once I saw those kids, I realized we needed to make some more. They were pumped up, and we were pumped up,” Joe Sawtell said.

The couple says they have seen some pretty sad situations, with two and three children sleeping in a bed, if they even have a bed.

“I can’t praise these guys enough. They are diligent in their commitment and show up every Tuesday morning. They have worked to get 200 kids off the floor,” Yvonne Sawtell said.

Her husband added: “That’s my compensation at the end of the day, when they climb up that ladder and get in bed. At that one moment, they are a happy family and everyone is smiling.”

Fast Facts

To donate money to support the Bunk Bed Ministry, send checks to the Prince of Life Lutheran Church, 13896 Meyers Road, Oregon City 97045, with a note that the money is to go to the Bunk Bed Ministry.

In addition to Joe Sawtell, the men who have built the bunk beds include Arnie Anderson, Jerry Cook, Ray Cooper, Bert Cranston, Ken Dahl, Lowell Gere, Dan Leeper, Ed Minster, Rollie Packer, Ray Renken and Curt Robinson.

Volunteers who have helped deliver the beds include Jerry Cook, Harlow Jacobson, John and Ben Mohlis, Ray Renken, Kevin Rodway and Joe Sawtell.

T. R. Cauthorn supplies all the lumber for the beds; John Lacey, of North America Mattress Corp., supplies the mattresses; and Skip Swyers, of Miller Paint, provides the paint at a significant price reduction.

Ruth Woodbury, the coordinator of quilting, has overseen the making of more than 200 quilts, and Prince of Life Sunday School students and teachers make the pillowcases.

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