Fond du Lac groups aim to end “sleep poverty” for kids

Good News Notes:

Where are the children sleeping?

Most parents don’t give it a thought when they tuck their children into their beds at night, snuggled into pillows and soft blankets.

But, there are children in the community — more than you might think — who sleep on piles of clothing on the floor, on couches or huddled together in beds meant for one person. 

The lack of comfort due to “bed poverty” can cause sleep disturbance in young children, according to the American Psychological Association,and poor sleep is linked to compromised cognitive processing, lower academic achievement and maladaptive school behavior. 

When two Fond du Lac residents, Valerie Graczyk and Tom Otte, learned of the growing need for beds and bedding supplies for impoverished youth, both were compelled into action, each forming different groups.

Graczyk launched “Pillow Power! Creating Sweeter Dreams,” to provide pillows, pillowcases and bedtime books for children. Otte started a local chapter of “Sleep in Heavenly Peace,” a national organization that brings together volunteers to build bunk beds and deliver them to families in need. 

Both are seeking more volunteers, as well as supplies to help meet the needs.

During a recent presentation to a local group of women, Chegwin Principal Kari Saunders said every child deserves to have the best sleep possible, and even a pillow, in a pillowcase, would be a game changer for some of her students, Grazcyk recalled. 

“When I heard of children without beds, and even a pillow, my heart just opened,” Graczyk said. “I took having a pillow for granted but for some families that just isn’t the case.”  

Often children in need are in transition between living situations, Saunders said, and in some cases, are hurriedly pushed out from where they were staying and don’t have the basics. Other kids may be homeless, or sleeping on someone’s couch.

According to 2018-19 data from the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction, 44.8% of students in the Fond du Lac School District were considered economically disadvantaged, about 3,181 students out of an enrollment of 7,100. The department’s latest figure for homeless students in Fond du Lac numbered 143 the year prior.

Along with collecting pillows and pillowcases, Graczyk and her partner in the project, Barb Senn, are taking it a step further by providing children’s book as well to encourage bedtime reading. Both are members of the Fond du Lac Morning Rotary Club, which funds books for students at Chegwin and Pier Elementary School. 

The next public pillow drop-off and collection is scheduled from 1 to 2:30 p.m. on June 17, in front of Fond du Lac Children Museum, 75 W. Scott St., in Fond du Lac.

Financial gifts can be directed to: “Chegwin Children’s Fund” and the money will be divided between both Chegwin and Pier schools. Checks can be mailed to: Chegwin Elementary School, 109 E. Merrill Ave., Fond du Lac, WI 54935. Questions can be directed to Graczyk at

Sleep in Heavenly Peace

Tom Otte said it was around Christmastime when he offered a twin mattress for free on a local Facebook page. He received multiple requests.

“Upon delivery I was astonished the conditions the kids were sleeping in and this was just a few blocks from my own house and it lit a fire in me,” Otte said. “I did one delivery where a young girl of 12 was sleeping on a dog bed.”….

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