Legend:This summer in Salmon River, union members volunteered their time to build spruce beds and deliver them to homes for students in need. Photo provided.
When you build a bed for a child, you are building a safe shelter on cold ground, a lumpy sofa, or away from a bed crowded with siblings. You build support.
And in the case of the Salmon River Teachers Association, you create a bond between the school and the community; between educators and families.
For the Salmon River TA, the demonstration of a Build-a-Bed project also helped to strengthen union solidarity. The local community donated money for the project, and teachers, school counselors, social workers, nurses and psychologists donated time, skills, manpower and bedding. At a closed lodge in nearby Bombay, union members spent two summer days building 16 spruce beds for needy students 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 lumber at cost, Schrader said. A bed has been pre-assembled as a template for union volunteer members to follow when building each bed. All the material was packed in packages for each unit. Wooden slats supported the mattresses.
Some of the pre-cut lumber for the beds had to be shortened so the younger ones could safely climb into their new beds, Schrader said.
Using a flatbed truck and trailer, the finished beds were loaded and delivered to students in various towns in the district and on the Akwesasne reserve, which is home to the district’s Mohawk school. Each mattress, donated by Fleming’s Fine Furniture to Malone, was wrapped in plastic – a bonus since it started to sink when the beds were put down.
“It was an absolute downpour,” Schrader said. While the rain can obstruct the vision, it cleared it up. “It opened my eyes to see where some students live and how they live. Times are tough and there is no solid economic base here. It is difficult to earn a living wage if you are not in the public service. And this economic downturn (from the pandemic) made it worse. “
Salmon River TA President Adam Schrader signs the bed frames with a special union message to each of the students. Photo provided.
Since then, other requests have been received. “Families and students have contacted us since we delivered the first major batch of beds this summer,” said Schrader.
Home school coordinator Hailey Cartier, a member of the Salmon River TA, worked with a community-school liaison and a CSEA attendance supervisor to see which families were interested in getting a bed. Cartier said that because she had visited so many homes – including food depots during the pandemic shutdown – she had a good idea of what families might need. A few said no – they wanted other families to have one – but others were amazed. “Some of them cried… some of them couldn’t believe it,” Cartier said.
Each bed was equipped with blankets, sheets and pillows donated by members of the SRTA. 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 company at a NYSUT regional conference. So when Salmon River TA became a participant in NYSUT’s Local Action Project – a three-year program for local unions to strengthen member and community engagement – building beds for students became part of their plans.
With time constraints and so much to accomplish, other union projects came first: community dinners, movie nights, Thanksgiving food giveaways, winter break raffles, and an annual Health Jamboree. and well-being. The local hosted social events in the middle of winter for members to boost morale and collect food for the local pantry.
“Then the pandemic erased our schedule,” Schrader said. No other social event could be organized. “So we released our original LAP plan.”
And there, in black and white, was the bed project. Waiting, like a messy bed, to be made.