St. Joseph Parish ministry builds beds for children in need

By Michelle Martin | Staff writer
Thursday, April 20, 2023

St. Joseph Parish ministry builds beds for children in need

Volunteers work in the shop near St. Joseph Church in Libertyville making beds for children in need as part of the St. Joseph Bed Ministry on March 28, 2023. The ministry, which started in fall 2018, has made and delivered over 1,200 beds. Every Tuesday evening during the builds, parish and community volunteers gather to construct beds that are later assembled in a child’s room in his/her home with a donated mattress, pillow and bedding so it is ready to be slept in. The bed ministry relies on donations for bedding, which includes sheets, pillows, blankets and comforters. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
One of two workshops for the ministry in Libertyville. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Samples of finished beds are on display in the window of the workshop which is located in a strip mall near the parish at 126 N. Milwaukee Avenue, Libertyville. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Samples of finished beds are on display in the window of the workshop which is located in a strip mall near the parish at 126 N. Milwaukee Avenue, Libertyville. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Volunteers work in the shop. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Volunteers are greeted with safety gear consisting of goggles, gloves, masks and ear plugs as they enter the workshop. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Susan Speth and Don Rentsch work with the drill presses. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Volunteers work at one of the many sanding stations in both workshops. Each piece of wood must be sanded smooth to prevent children getting cut or splinters. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Volunteers work in the shop near St. Joseph Church. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Gary Jenner and Al Cowsky sand wood at their station while Dan Palmeri and Maurice Griffin look over the shop. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Maurice Griffin feeds wood into a planer as Gary Jenner sands wood. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Kate Cornell, Mary and Tommy Lutz lend a hand loading wood on their spring break. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Kate Cornell, Mary, Sean and Tommy Lutz load wood as the Lutz children's mom, Justine, looks on from the doorway. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Volunteers feed wood into a planer at their station in the workshop. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
An example of a bed hangs over volunteers working in the second workshop. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
A sign is displayed on the door at the second workshop. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Ian Steward and Curt Feiereisel cut boards at their station. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)
Chuck Palid, John Kolb and Dennis Valentini assemble beds. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)

St. Joseph was a carpenter. He built things for people — beds, tables, whatever they needed. And he taught Jesus to help him.

That’s what Diana told her 3-year-old daughter Isabella for three nights in February. Then, on the morning of Feb. 24, she told her that St. Joseph had come to build her a new bed.

It wasn’t the saint himself, of course, but two volunteers from the St. Joseph Parish Bed Ministry, which has provided more than 1,256 beds for children in Lake County and surrounding areas since 2018.

“I told her, ‘This is your gift from Jesus Christ,’” Diana said.

Isabella’s response? She asked if she could have breakfast in bed.

“She said she didn’t want to get out of the bed yet,” Diana said. “She put her pillow and her toys on it.”

For Diana and her husband, Gustavo, the bed is a sign of hope, of kindness and of the presence of God in their lives.

“I was taking Isabella to school when they called, and I had to walk home,” Diana said. “I stopped in the park and I was crying, and I was talking to God, saying thank you. I called my husband crying, and he said, ‘Don’t tell Isabella. It will be a surprise for her.’”

So Diana and Gustavo did not tell their daughter that she was getting a bed, but they did tell her about St. Joseph.

Most of the children who receive beds through the Libertyville parish’s ministry aren’t there when volunteers come to set them up, said Dennis Valentini, who coordinates bed deliveries, since many of the children are school-age and most, but not all, deliveries happen on weekdays.

The volunteers carry in the components that have been created and sanded by volunteers at Tuesday night building sessions and put them together in the room where the child will sleep, including putting the mattress on the frame and making the bed with sheets, a comforter and a pillow.

Each twin bed costs $300 for lumber and other materials and bedding, organizers said. Donations of cash and new bedding defray the costs, and the volunteers do their best to get the best deal they can, including driving to Fort Wayne, Indiana, where they found mattresses for $19 less each than they could get them for in Lake County.

Families can get a single twin bed, or bunk beds made by stacking and securing two twin beds.

“In the four years plus that we’ve been doing this, I’ve seen everything,” Valentini said. “Kids sleeping in a couch, on a chair, on a ratty old mattress on a floor, all different kind of things.”

Valentini was recruited by his friend Dan Harris, a parishioner and facilities manager at St. Joseph Parish. In early 2018, Harris saw a report about Sleep in Heavenly Peace, an Idaho-based non-profit that provides beds for children. By November 2018, Harris had organized a chapter of that organization based at St. Joseph.

Last year, as Sleep in Heavenly Peace grew and added more chapters and more staff, the volunteers at St. Joseph decided to become their own ministry. Harris modified the bed plans — he thought he could improve them — and they have continued to provide beds for children in the area who need them.

Dan Palmieri, friends with Harris since they were students at St. Joseph School as children, manages the build sessions on Tuesday nights. Each week, 30 to 40 volunteers meet in the workshop, pray for the children who will receive the beds and for a safe building session and get a short orientation on how to use the tools and make the components.

Palmieri, reached on his cellphone while he was at Lowe’s ordering lumber, said he retired from a career as a bricklayer right around the time this ministry started, and it has given him something to do.

“I get up, go to daily Mass, and do what I have to do to get the build ready,” he said.

Volunteers come individually, as families and in groups, sometimes of young people preparing for confirmation, sometimes from other churches. While the youngest volunteers might not be able to use the power tools, everyone can do something, he said.

“It tells us in Scripture that we’re all different parts of the body, and the hand can’t do it without the foot and so forth,” he said. “We need everybody.”

A whiteboard in the workshop keeps track of how many beds have been made and delivered and how many requests there are to fulfill. The pace of building and delivering beds slowed during the COVID-19 pandemic, but it has picked up again. Last fall, when the number of outstanding requests dwindled, Harris emailed public school districts in Waukegan, North Chicago and Zion.

That day, he received more than 100 requests in an hour.

Other requests come from public agencies such as DCFS and the Lake County Court Appointed Special Advocate office, but many come from people like Diana, who hear about the ministry and make a request on their own.

Diana said Isabella had been sleeping in her parents’ bed for almost three months, ever since she and her daughter joined Gustavo and Gustavo’s 20-year-old son, Santiago, in Waukegan.

It was hard for Isabella to sleep, hard for her parents to sleep, and it was just one more thing that was different from their native Colombia, where the family had a house and her parents both had jobs.

“In Colombia, we didn’t have to ask for help,” Diana said.

Now, as the family seeks asylum in the United States, only Gustavo, Diana’s husband, is working, and money — and space — are tight in the family’s apartment. Diana was able to get diapers from a local non-profit, and the woman who helped her there mentioned that she had heard about a church that provided beds.

Diana looked on the internet, but she didn’t find anything.

Then the family went to Mass at St. Joseph Parish in Libertyville, a place Gustavo had gone to get food from the pantry before his wife and daughter came to the United States. Leaving Mass, she saw a storefront with a bed in the window.

She had found the bed ministry.

She found the webpage for the ministry and filled it out, in Spanish. She didn’t hear anything for a few days, and one night when she couldn’t sleep because Isabella’s feet were planted in her back, she tried again in English.

Valentini called to set up the delivery three days later.

“When we were in Colombia, we didn’t need help,” Diana said. “When you are in another country, far away from home and from family, you feel alone. But now, I think people will help.”

To learn more about the St. Joseph Bed Ministry, visit


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