Police Officers Jeremy Wade and Ryan Gallagher say they were heartbroken after meeting two little girls in a Central District townhome.
Wade and Gallagher were called to the home multiple times earlier this year to respond to a disturbance, usually at bedtime. The officers soon realized the girls, ages 6 and 12, were missing something most people take for granted: a place to sleep.
“We saw there was just one bed in the grandparents’ room,” Wade said. “There was only a single blanket on the dirty floor in the other bedroom for the girls.”
The grandparents raised the sisters from birth, stepping in for a mother with a drug addiction. The officers said they could see that the grandparents cared about the children and did what they could to provide for them with limited resources.
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“We left the house just wishing we could do more for them beyond our regular police duties,” Wade said.
A few days later the officers returned to the home with two new twin beds, purchased with their own money.
“The grandparents were completely surprised,” Wade recalled. The grandmother said, “God bless you; I feel like a million dollars,” as the officers assembled the beds and left gift bags for each girl, he said.
“We bought the beds with the initial intention of not telling anyone,” Wade said. “But after, we were inspired to do more when we thought about all the other kids we’ve seen over the years on patrol without a bed. We realized there are so many houses where kids are huddled on the floor or sharing a small mattress. There are probably hundreds of kids sleeping without a bed in this city.”
After that initial act, Wade and Gallagher decided to form “The Beds for Kids Project,” a fundraiser with the goal of providing needy children with a place to sleep.
“When we did a little research we saw that there are other beds-for-kids projects in other cities, so this is something that is a problem beyond Seattle,” Wade said. “We found reports that kids without beds miss school and are sick more often, but seeing that just confirmed what we already knew: This is a serious problem.”
Wade and Gallagher took the idea to the Seattle Police Department, where Wade said it was well received by officers all the way up the ranks.
The department now plans to sponsor the fundraiser with additional help from the Seattle Police Foundation, the Seattle Police Chaplains Association, the Seattle Police Pipes and Drums band and other donations.
Ikea will provide additional support by donating bed frames, mattresses and textiles, according to a company spokeswoman. Ikea also plans to collect donations at a company event and will have a team of employees available to help deliver and assemble the beds.
Wade said the police department also plans to raise money throughout the summer and is considering collecting donations trough a local concert from the Police Pipes and Drums band.
The Beds for Kids Project isn’t the only new charitable endeavor to emerge from the experience of Wade and Gallagher. Wade, as executive director of the chaplains association, also proposed that the group add a new “good Samaritan” fund.
Wade said he and Gallagher got the idea for the fund when they heard a story of a fellow officer paying for a motel room for a family in need.
“There was a mother and six kids and they were moving into their public housing the next day,” Wade said. “They didn’t have anywhere to sleep that night, so the officer bought them a room for the eight out of his own pocket. So we wanted to create a general fund to help officers do that sort of thing.”
The fund would be set aside to reimburse officers for providing monetary help to someone in need.
Eric Sano, president of the chaplains association, a nonprofit association separate from the Police Department, said that the good Samaritan fund will be paid in part through the annual association budget. He said the group is in the process of approving and allocating funds for the new program.
“Let’s say you see someone who didn’t have a meal or a place to go: The fund would be a way to reimburse officers who might, out of the goodness of their hearts, help those people,” Sano said. “They could buy them a meal at McDonald’s, get them a hotel room for the night or buy them a pair of shoes with the money.”
“Police officers helping out people they come across is something that happens all the time already,” Ron Smith, president of the Seattle Police Officers’ Guild, said. “They do it because it’s the right thing to do. The fund just gives them a way to pay for it.”
Erin Heffernan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 206-464-3249.