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Gig Harbor native follows heart into humanitarian work

Relief Bed founder and Gig Harbor native Scott Smalling shows some of his product line Monday morning at the Northwest Furniture Bank in downtown Tacoma.
Relief Bed founder and Gig Harbor native Scott Smalling shows some of his product line Monday morning at the Northwest Furniture Bank in downtown Tacoma.

After 15 years working in the commercial bed industry, Gig Harbor native Scott Smalling decided to combine his experience with his passion for humanitarian work.

Smalling, 48, left his position at Simmons in 2014 and in September officially announced the start of his new product and company, Relief Bed.

“The goal of Relief Bed is to provide better sleep to those that don’t have beds,” Smalling said.

Relief Bed is a durable, self-inflating mattress that was designed to be used for emergency sleeping needs, in situations ranging from homeless individuals to disaster victims and aid workers.

“The things that happen to people who don’t get a good night’s sleep are proven to be bad, medically,” Smalling said. “It’s important to give people a good night’s sleep, especially when they’re young.”

Smalling is the founder of the ComforPedic mattress brand and he has used his background and contacts within the industry to create Relief Bed. He has partnered with Therm-A-Rest, a manufacturer of extreme outdoor equipment for more than 40 years, to design and manufacture Relief Bed.

The things that happen to people who don’t get a good night’s sleep are proven to be bad, medically.

Scott Smalling

Doug Jacot, vice president of Therm-A-Rest, met Smalling through his previous work at Simmons.

“Scott’s campaign really struck a chord with us,” Jacot said. “We think it’s important people sleep well wherever they are in the world.”

The mattress was designed to be very portable, extremely durable and waterproof, Jacot said, and also features an integrated pillow to support the sleeper’s head and neck.

“It can take a lot of abuse,” he said. “It’s quite a versatile product.”

Smalling hasn’t stopped with the original design of Relief Bed.

Generation two of Relief Bed — called Relief Pad — will be ready to launch in January and will meet different needs that Smalling has identified.

Relief Pad is smaller and is designed to be used indoors, such as in a rescue mission or a very small house, as a way to provide children a place to sleep. Smalling has been working with several relief organizations in the U.S. and overseas to distribute his product to those in need.

Relief Bed was distributed in a recent Sleepless in Seattle event to provide resources to the city’s unsheltered homeless, and beds have been donated to an orphanage in Uganda. Smalling is also helping to orchestrate an event to reach the unsheltered homeless in Tacoma, called Tired in Tacoma, that is set for Jan. 16 to provide cold weather gear in partnership with local business in the area.

The longest humanitarian partnership for Smalling has been with World Vision, a Federal Way-based Christian humanitarian development organization that works to help the poorest places in the world develop out of poverty and also provides domestic and international disaster relief.

20,000 Number of beds Smalling plans to have on hand at any given time for emergencies

Angela Appleton, director of Corporate Engagement for World Vision, was able to provide Smalling with some guidance for the designing of Relief Bed — specifically what characteristics would be necessary for the bed to function properly.

These characteristics included that the bed be easy to clean, light to carry, and be waterproof, all of which Appleton said where included in Smalling’s design.

“We’re thrilled to be partnered with him on this (project),” she said.

World Vision has sent the first international shipment of Relief Beds to two hospitals in Zambia and officials are looking forward to hearing field reports back on how the beds work, Appleton said.

She is confident in the response they will receive.

“I told him: Scott, you can’t make enough beds,” the director said.

Smalling is working on fundraising for Relief Bed in order to increase manufacturing and meet the ultimate goal he has for his company: a warehouse of Relief Beds ready to ship out to wherever they’re in need.

“(My goal) is sustainable funding to manufacture and to have 20,000 Relief Beds in inventory at any time to react to (the needs) of humanitarian organizations and relief,” he said.

Jacot is supportive of both the product and Smalling’s mission.

“Scott’s a very impressive guy. His vision and mission really resonated with me and I’m excited to support him,” Jacot said.

Smalling is enthusiastic about his product and his humanitarian goals.

“I found truly my motivation and my passion,” he said.

Appleton agrees: “(Smalling) has a passion for people who are impoverished and in helping people in need.”

Andrea Haffly: 253-358-4155, @gateway_andrea