It was supposed to be the world's biggest pillow fort.
The record-breaking structure was to be built in the parking lot of the Lake Harriet United Methodist Church in Minneapolis on a Sunday morning in early May, using donations from members of roughly 700 pillows.
Someone drew up plans. Someone else contacted representatives of the Guinness World Records organization.
But when that Sunday turned out to be drizzly and chilly, the fort's construction was forced inside. Members still worked to build the structure in the fellowship hall in the church's lower level, with a considerably scaled-down design. Forget the planned 20-foot tower and flagpole. And the walls, made of plastic-encased pillows clipped onto wires strung between poles, were about 10 feet shorter on each side than the original specs.
Meanwhile, Guinness informed the church that the organization would charge $13,000 to come out and assess the project as a world's record.
"Never mind, thanks anyway," the church replied.
So whether the fort — possibly even the smaller version — might have broken a record will never be known. And yet, in almost every way, the event was a success.
While not quite as cheery as it would have been on a sunny spring day, the event still featured a food truck and activities including a pillow catapult and pillow-case design activity. People still had a chance to mingle and chat (through masks).
Children spent an hour and a half diving into a giant pile of pillows — these too were plastic-cased and would be donated — in the middle of the structure, laughing as they flung themselves atop it or burrowed through the big puffy piles.
And most important, families without homes — who might otherwise not sleep on pillows at all — will now sleep more comfortably.
"It was actually fun," said the Rev. Karen Chatfield Bruins, the church's pastor. "I was a little disappointed we couldn't be outside, because that would have brought in neighbors."
But the event offered a valuable "opportunity to be together and connect and have some fun after two really hard years," Bruins said. "That goal was really met. There were happy people eating tacos and jumping into pillows."
The idea came from the son of a church member, who had seen an episode of the TV series "Community" in which the characters built a big pillow fort (more of a blanket fort, technically).
The church thought it sounded like a fun project to bring people together, draw visitors from the neighborhood and raise donations in the form of pillows that afterward would go to people facing homelessness.
The hope was that the fort would attract surrounding neighbors — people who saw announcements on social media or were walking their dogs past the site and wondered what the heck that big white thing was.
But when church members started planning the event in January, COVID was spiking. So getting people together safely, following a couple of years when about half of members attended services remotely, was another one of the event's objectives.
Good night, sleep tight
In the end, the event's objective was reached — collecting hundreds of pillows to be donated to homeless shelters.
Slumberland Furniture promised to match the number the church collected. So somewhere around 1,400 people will benefit, Bruins said; "Everyone deserves a good night's sleep."
There's certainly a need at Simpson Housing Services, which houses, supports, and advocates for people experiencing homelessness at locations throughout the Twin Cities. The organization will receive a portion of the donated pillows.
"We have 70 people at our shelter — that's a lot of pillows needed," said Aaron Ramos, volunteer engagement coordinator. Pillows are in short supply at Simpson, Ramos said, along with other bedding.
Ramos and Hannah Jones, Simpson's communications and content specialist, set up an informational table at the church event.
"When people think of homelessness, they think of socks, for some reason," Ramos said. "So we have 20,000 pairs of socks but not a lot of other things."
"Pillows are a basic need," Jones said, adding that donations also tend to peak around the holiday season and dwindle at other times of the year.
Simpson recently announced it had raised 70% of its $41 million fundraising goal to build a new Simpson Community Shelter and Apartments in Minneapolis. The facility will include 70 shelter beds, enhanced on-site services and 42 units of permanent affordable housing, with construction to start at the end of this year or in early 2023.
At the table next to Simpson sat representatives of People Serving People, (PSP) which maintains 99 hotel-style shelter units for homeless families. It, too, is set to receive donated pillows.
"This is awesome, this is so unique," said Maria Pederson, PSP's development coordinator. "I've never heard about or seen an event like this."
Also receiving pillows are Union Gospel Mission Twin Cities, a Christian ministry that serves people facing homelessness, poverty or addiction, and Metro Hope Ministries, a Christian drug and alcohol recovery program. Other organizations have been contacting the church, too, Bruins said.
"Anytime you have that many people working together on a project, there's just wonderful positive energy that comes out of it," she said.
"We had tons of volunteers that were helping, so they did indeed create an event where you could have great fun for a great cause."