HARTSVILLE, S.C. — United of Way of Hartsville director Joann DeLong receives request frequently for beds.

She said that in October 2017 she received a call from Carpenter Steel, formerly Tally Metals, informing her that the employees had competed in a company-wide contest and had won first and second place. Prior to the competition they had to designate the charitable organization they wished to help if they won. The $5,000 second-place prize had been designated for United Way of Hartsville.

At that time, DeLong said, she had 14 people waiting for beds. These were fire victims and children the school district had identified as needing beds.

“I asked if I could purchase beds with the donation,” she said.

She said a week after getting the OK, she announced at a Rotary meeting United Way’s good fortune. A week after that, she received an anonymous donation from a private donor for $30,000 to use on the bed project.

In December of that year, she said, Duke Energy presented her with $20,000 from its employee giving campaign and requested that $10,000 of it be used on the bed project.

“I started ordering beds from Amazon in October, and in December when I went to order more beds, they restricted me,” she said.

She said they thought she was reselling them. DeLong said she went directly to the company Zinus to place an order.

“They called me back and said they could offer some free mattresses and frames,” she said. DeLong said they asked if she could use 200 or 300 beds. All she had to do was pay the shipping from their warehouse in Summerville.

Her first thought was “where will I store them?”

She said a bank in town gave her warehouse space to store the beds.

On Jan. 5, 2018, DeLong said, a tractor-trailer loaded with 660 beds arrived in Hartsville. Help also arrived from the Zinus warehouse in Summerville, Habitat for Humanity and Lowe’s to unload two trucks.

“They did it in two hours,” she said. “Everyone came together to unload the trucks. Because of their generosity, my next goal was to expand the program to include sheets and comforter sets.”

Her next thing to ponder was how to distribute the beds.

She had a meeting with all the nonprofits in town, CareSouth, the Darlington County School District, mental health agencies, Habitat for Humanity, Goodwill, Trent Hill Center, Guardian ad Litem, Darlington County Community Action Agency and others, for referrals. The beds are distributed to children and to seniors.

She said now everyone gets a bed frame, mattress, pillow, sheets and comforter set.

“I’ve already given out 357 beds,” she said.

“Last spring I called all three donors – Carpenter Steel, Duke Energy and the anonymous donor to ask if I could give beds to all students in Darlington County that needed them,” she said. “I also contacted the Darlington United Way.”

DeLong said her only request of recipients is personal information and a photo of the child with the comforter. A wall in the United Way office is lined with photos of children and a couple of senior citizens with huge smiles on their faces holding new comforter sets.

The beds are given out on Wednesdays.

She said parents are encouraged to bring the children with them so they can pick out their own comforters.

“Because this project has taken on a life of its own, we have Amy Jenner here working on the project,” DeLong said. “Every other week my husband and two men from Habitat meet at the warehouse to bring 35 to 40 beds to the office.”

“It has been awesome,” she said.

She said she initially thought 125 beds would be wonderful but has been given so much more. She asks members of the community to think about sponsoring a child by donating $35 for a new comforter set for the child's new bed.

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