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Retailer uses celebrity status to aid favorite charity

APPLETON, Wis. — Jamie Valeri is using some of her newfound celebrity as Mrs. Wisconsin-United States to expand a charity effort close to her heart.

 Furniture Advantage CharityJamie Valeri, who is co-owner of Today’s Furniture Advantage of Appleton, Wis., and is the reigning Mrs. Wisconsin-USA, has a website that tells about the store’s Silent Night — Give a Child a Bed program, which provides beds to needy children. The site is at http://jamievaleri.com/givingback.html.

The mother of six and co-owner of the two-store Today's Furniture Advantage of Appleton, Wis., is donating one bedding set to "a child in need of a safe place to sleep" for every 10 sets her stores sell under her Silent Night - Give a Child a Bed program.

Valeri also is working to get others in the industry involved, offering to generate publicity by visiting their stores for photo ops, dressed in sash and crown, and carrying tiaras to hand out to the retailers' "next generation of customers."

Valeri competed for the Mrs. United States at the pageant in Las Vegas July 12, hoping to use a win as a springboard for national attention to the charity effort. She ended up finishing in the top 12 in a field of 54 contestants (Mrs. Missouri, Aquillia Vang, took the crown). It was the first top 12 finish for Mrs. Wisconsin since 2003, and she also took home the pageant's National Civic Award.

Valeri said she and her husband, Richard Valeri, took control of a bankrupt retail business in 2005 and have turned it into a profitable venture despite the tough economy.

She said she was moved to create the Silent Night program after an encounter with a struggling family who couldn't afford the furniture she had sold them. After paying the family a visit and seeing their living conditions, Valeri came away with a better understanding of what some families are going through in these tough times.

"They couldn't pay even $10 a month," she said. "It was a matter of buying food or paying for the furniture."

After that eye opener, she started contacting local social services agencies "and they all said the same thing to me," Valeri recalled. "There will never be enough kids' beds - ever."

The Valeris launched the Silent Night program in December, with its stores in Appleton and Stevens Point, Wis., each donating bedding to local social service agencies, which then select the children and families most in need. But Valeri said she has made donations directly, too, after talking to some struggling people who have called on her.

"I'm a mom with six kids," she said. "It's hard to say no."

Valeri, who goes on every delivery dressed as Mrs. Wisconsin, estimated that to date, Today's Furniture Advantage has donated about 60 mattress sets. The retailer carries bedding from Restonic, Englander, King Koil and Corsicana, and currently is donating Corsicana mattresses with Glideaway bed frames.

She said she has talked to a handful other Wisconsin furniture stores committed to implementing the program, including Bob's Factory Outlet, which already has done so at its stores Park Falls and Ashland, Wis.

It costs them nothing to participate with the exception of the bedding donations, Valeri said. And stores are free to set their own giving parameters.

Since winning the Wisconsin contest, Valeri has been working to get the word out about the bedding donation program through media interviews, by contacting other stores, by employing some help from manufacturer representatives who call on the company, and through the Home Furnishings Independents Assn. (Today's Furniture Advantage is a member).

"I have authenticity as Jamie Valeri, but as Jamie Valeri, Mrs. Wisconsin, more doors are opening," she said.

"I've made a commitment to myself and these children, as a mom and just as a human being. I have to continue to advance the program. It's something deep inside me I feel called to do."

For more information on how to participate, visit the store's website at http://www.todaysfurnitureadvantage.com/ or contact Valeri at Jamie@jamievaleri.com.

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