MERCER COUNTY AREA —
Decorated with their favorite cartoon characters and lined with stuffed animals, 3-year-old Michael Biro Jr. and his 7-year-old sister Jaylynn Rust’s beds are comfy and cozy.
They’re not allowed to jump on their new beds, provided by the Schroyer family’s Beds for Little Heads project. But little Michael, who was wearing one Spiderman sock and one Incredible Hulk sock Wednesday afternoon, confessed he may have tried out the time-honored childhood pastime behind a closed door.
After their Shenango Township home burned down a few months ago -- something the kids still talk about regularly -- mom Ashley McFarland said they all shared a bedroom at her sister's home until they found a place of their own.
They’d lost everything and McFarland said they couldn’t afford new beds for the kids. Then the folks from Beds for Little Heads came through and the day they moved into their new home in Lackawannock Township the organization gave them each a new bed and mattress.
“It’s a great help,” McFarland said, stressing how wonderful the outpouring of support from the community was after their loss. “People are still good around here.”
She said she was surprised at how “gorgeous” the donated beds were and her boyfriend Michael Biro echoed her gratefulness.
“We needed the help for our kids and they were there for us,” Biro said, adding that he knows there are others out there who need assistance, too, and it’s good to know people are willing to give.
The Schroyers’ journey started about two years ago after Karl Schroyer helped deliver beds to several families in need in Sharon.
He was so moved by the little ones’ reactions and shocked to see kids sleeping on floors or sharing bean bag chairs that he decided to do something to help.
Schroyer’s carpenter brother Brett and Brett’s wife Donna were immediately on board and committed to making 50 beds to give out to children in the area, a quota they hit within two months and that’s already been tripled.
They made their first delivery in February 2011 and got a $5,800 grant from the Shenango Valley Foundation to continue their efforts. They built beds in Brett Schroyer’s shop, Greenfield Woodworks, with the help of volunteers.
It’s heartbreaking to the Schroyers that they currently have a waiting list of people who need beds, but they’ve taken on the project on top of their full-time jobs and families of their own.
Mrs. Schroyer said they were surprised at how great the need was and continues to be.
They’ve since taken donations of gently used mattresses, frames, bed clothes and cash. More than 150 children in the region now have their own safe place to sleep thanks to Beds for Little Heads. They’ve been to Franklin, Ellwood City, Niles, Ohio, and many places in Mercer and Lawrence counties.
She said some families have been displaced by fire, others moved due to domestic situations and others are just down on their luck. Mrs. Schroyer said while some parents may have made bad decisions in life, that’s no fault of the children.
“We want to show these kids that people care,” she said.
Children do better in school if they get a good night’s rest and when they’re scared or sad, their bed is a place to turn to, Mrs. Schroyer noted.
Many people have stepped up to help the effort through donations of everything from pillows and sheets to gas cards.
“It’s been overwhelming,” Mrs. Schroyer said.
But to keep things going, the Schroyers said they need more support. If they had money for supplies, Brett Schroyer said they have volunteers willing to help and can make as many as 10 beds in a day, assembly-line style. At this point, they’re operating solely with donated items.
“It’s frustrating because we know we can do more and we’d like to do more but it’s almost like our hands are tied,” Brett Schroyer said.
Karl Schroyer said people are also welcome to help make deliveries and see the difference they can make for youngsters.
“It’s eye-opening,” he said.
Mrs. Schroyer said they serve children ages 1 to 17 but because of new regulations generally aren’t able to help families who need cribs.
Beds for Little Heads is a non-profit organization in the process of filing for 501(c)3 status, Mrs. Schroyer said.
However, Karl Schroyer questions the logic of spending hundreds of dollars on a government designation when kids are in need.
“That’s a lot of beds,” he said of that cost.
For more information about Beds for Little Heads, call 724-979-4868, send an e-mail to email@example.com or check out the groups Facebook page. They can also be reached by regular mail at 1967 Mercer-West Middlesex Road, Mercer, PA 16137.