Seven Southwest Florida children will sleep in their own beds and snuggle in their own blankets tonight thanks to a blossoming partnership between the Lee County Sheriff’s Office and the Guardian ad Litem Foundation, 20th Judicial Circuit.

On Sept. 16, the seven children joined their caregivers and law enforcement for a memorable day of shopping and culinary delights. The morning started with cupcakes before browsing the showroom at Rooms to Go Kids in Fort Myers, where children selected a new bed frame, mattress, dresser and nightstand. Then, they traveled to Walmart to choose a new pillow, kid-friendly blanket, linens and stuffed animals. Finally, they stopped at McDonald’s for an early lunch and apple pies.

The event was made possible through the Foundation’s Beds for Kids Program, which provides new beds for children in the foster care system who have been abused, neglected or abandoned by their biological parents.

“Many children in the foster care system did not grow up having their own beds; they either had to share a bed with siblings or sleep on the couch or the floor,” said Jessica Stanfield, the foundation’s executive director. “Thanks to support from the Lee County Sheriff’s Office and Sheriff Carmine Marceno, these children can now sleep comfortably in a bedroom filled with furniture and décor that they picked out.”

Sgt. Michael Truscott said local residential communities, charitable organizations and civic groups regularly hold fundraisers, then partner with the Community Response Unit at the Sheriff’s Office to distribute items to residents and nonprofits in need of assistance. The Sheriff’s Office traditionally uses those funds to purchase holiday gifts for children, but law enforcement was eager to support Beds for Kids after learning about the program’s impact on youth in foster care.

“We were trying to do something outside the box, and what better way to give back to the community than to offer a bedroom set and furniture,” Truscott said. “It gives the kids a sense of belonging and something that they can call their own. No matter where these kids are placed in the future moving forward through the process, this bedroom furniture is going to move with them through that process until they find permanent placement or return back to their family.”

Beds for Kids was founded in 2001 by Cynthia Shafer to help individuals who were willing to open their hearts and homes to youth in the child welfare system. The Florida Department of Children & Families requires that children have their own bed before the court will grant temporary custody to a caregiver, family member or foster parent. During the past 20 years, generous donors and business partners have helped provide nearly 3,000 beds to children across Southwest Florida based on recommendations from their court-appointed Guardian ad Litem volunteer child advocates.

Caregiver Allison Holbrook is in the pre-adoption phase with two girls, and recently started looking at furniture options to make their bedroom more functional and personalize their space.

“I can’t even express how much of a blessing this is for us as a family, and for our two little girls,” Holbrook said after selecting a new bunk bed and bedroom set. “It’s so important that kids feel important and loved.”

For more information about the Beds for Kids Program, please contact Stanfield at 239-533-1435 or JStanfield@GALFoundation20.org.

About Guardian ad Litem Foundation

Guardian ad Litem Foundation, 20th Judicial Circuit, was established in 1984 and is a registered 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that supports Guardian ad Litem programs in Lee, Collier, Charlotte, Hendry and Glades counties. The Foundation, a United Way Partner Agency, has a mission of ensuring that every abused, neglected or abandoned youth in Southwest Florida has a voice as they navigate the judicial, education and child welfare system. The Foundation raises funds that help meet a child’s health, educational and social needs, as well as provide support for highly trained volunteer advocates who represent the best interests of a child until a safe, permanent placement is established. For additional information, visit VoicesForKids.org or call 239-533-1435.