Most of us are familiar with the concept of food banks and soup kitchens which serve the poor. A movement sparked out of Ventura, Calif., offers a twist on that: making it possible for people with limited funds to do their wash for free.
It’s called Laundry Love, and it’s happening all over the country. Typically, it’s organized by a church, mosque or synagogue that wants to engage in community outreach.
On the last Wednesday of the month in East Hollywood, for instance, two congregations, Holy Spirit in Silver Lake and Founders MCC in Los Feliz work together to line up volunteers and reach out to the locals in the neighborhood to let them know about the service. They raise the money, too: up to $500 in quarters, and laundry soap.
When the doors open to the public at 7pm, volunteers begin inserting quarters and soap and bleach and triaging the lines of people who’ve arrived. The whole place has the atmosphere of a community center as the neighborhood comes together to wash.
Boxed dinners are provided – since, says co-organizer Rev. Nat Katz – they wouldn’t have had the time or funds to do their laundry and eat. “We make it possible for people to do the laundry on a monthly basis who otherwise couldn’t afford to do it or would have to make very tough choices——whether to have clean clothes, clean towels or pay their bills, put food on the table,” he said.
An added benefit is building community: Some of the people in attendance told me they’d never met their neighbors before coming here. Out in line, a few bewildered people wondered if it might be a gimmick. “I think it’s a godsend,” said Aida, an elderly woman whose children and grandchildren live with her.
Steve Bruce volunteers at a “Laundry Love” in Huntington Beach and was in East Hollywood to help on the night I visited. “What’s great about this is you can spend time getting to know someone. I mean, when you’re in a food line, it’s kind of quick. Over time, here you get to know their stories, what their needs are. This woman over here was saying, ‘You don’t know how much saving $40 a month means to us. I said, ‘Oh, I know. That’s why we do it.’”