Tireless mattress delivery team provides rest for weary

Community Kitchen Supervisor Tim Popoff, right, poses with his team of volunteers who help deliver beds and furnishings to newly housed clients. From left are Manwell McClinton, Demetrious Harden and Anthony Blackwell. Demetrious not long ago received furnishings after helping deliver to others.

When a formerly homeless man moved into his new apartment with nothing but a blanket, Community Kitchen Supervisor Tim Popoff decided to do something about it. A couple of years later, that gesture has turned into a weekly volunteer project for Tim – and anyone else he can recruit to help. Over the past 3 years, he estimates he has delivered 780 mattresses, more than 300 chairs, and other furniture.

He does it all with volunteer help when he's not busy feeding hungry people at the Community Kitchen at our Lansing homeless service center. All trips are made with a delivery truck with more than 250,000 miles on it (Tim bought it himself and donated back to Volunteers of America) which does double duty picking up food donations.

It all started when Tim noticed an elderly client who had found housing but was still eating meals at the Community Kitchen and getting services at New Hope Day Center. He gave the client a ride home and noticed the empty apartment. "There was nothing there," Tim said. No bedding. No furniture.

He decided to do something about it, and arranged for the client to get some groceries, a bed and a couch. And there is where his side project began.


It is a great achievement when clients move into housing. But most of them start with almost zero possessions, the kind of basic necessities most of us take for granted: Pots, pans, blankets, furnishings. They often resort to sleeping on the floor, using sheets, swimming toys, blow-up mattresses, even newspapers. Tim and his volunteers saw an opportunity to help out. "The biggest need for people who find housing is that they need beds," Tim said.

Tim called Capital Bedding, a Lansing-based mattress wholesale manufacturer, who referred him to one of their retailers, Mattress Source. Tim explained the situation to their manager and they worked out an agreement for Tim to receive returned mattresses or those with small defects. Once a week he picks up, on average, five mattress and box spring sets and with sizes ranging from twins to kings. Any with signs of pests are rejected; most often the beds are brand new.

Tim recruits volunteers by just asking for help. Currently, a veteran, Manwell McClinton, and an ExperienceWorks staff member, Anthony Blackwell, volunteer to help Tim. Other volunteers, such as Matthew Milliken, are recruited as needed. Anthony serves as the liaison between Tim and the clients who need beds. "I know a lot of poor folks that need beds," he said. "Older folks, single parents. I like doing it and I enjoy it. People are very appreciative." Manwell said he helps out just to "give back to the community."

Tim and Manwell fit in the deliveries whenever they have the time. Sometimes they are out as late as 10 p.m. "We even deliver when people are not here," Manwell said.

Mary, who recently received a bed for herself and beds for her grandchildren said, "My grandkids love it. They're off the floor now. I appreciate it and they're safer now. The children were sleeping on beach blow-up mattresses."


Demetrius Harden used to help Tim deliver beds when he stayed at VOA a couple of years ago. He recently received his own queen-sized bed from Tim and Manwell. During the delivery, a former client living in the same complex as Demetrius saw the truck and said he needed a bed. Manwell, Tim and Demetrius made another delivery.

The delivery service also provides a much needed service helping out veterans who are moving into their new place. "It's a huge thing for the vets, especially when they don't have money to buy beds," said Jim Decke, Veterans Housing Program Manager. "Half the guys up here have helped Tim with furniture deliveries."

Don Mead, who drove fellow veterans for their appointments during his stay at the Veterans Housing Program, needed help when he moved into his new housing at VOA's Delta River Senior Village.

"I needed assistance and couldn't haul things myself," he said. "They were using their own time. They even set up my bed. They do a lot of work on behalf of the veterans."

The furniture and mattress delivery has spread to other in-kind donations for VOA. Tim recently received a donation of a hundred chairs from Comfort Inn that went to clients. The rest were donated to VOA Thrift stores. Tim and the many volunteers show that going the extra step really can make a difference between a house and home.


Photos: Making a house a home