Grace Church in New Bedford has joined a national movement to provide something that is taken for granted by many, but sometimes out of reach for the homeless and working poor: clean laundry. South Coast Mission Hub Life Together intern Victoria Laskey learned of the nationwide Laundry Love movement, and realized it was a perfect candidate for a new ministry for Grace Church.
"It really resonated with me, because it wasn’t a typical model of service. It’s not like folks line up and we hand them food-- it’s more of a community event, just a really innovative way to do service and be the church in the world,” Laskey said.
Laundry Love began more than 10 years ago, in Ventura, Calif., and has expanded across the country as an initiative any group or individual can start in their neighborhood. Since starting, Laundry Love estimates that more than 600,000 loads of laundry have been washed, and 450,000 people have been served. Participants register their location on the Laundry Love map online, but run their community events independently.
Laskey said that Grace Church already serves the large homeless and working poor populations in New Bedford through a food pantry and a weekly breakfast. “I met a lot of folks that come to those events and asked a lot of them if [laundry] was something they need, and overwhelmingly they said yes,” she said.
Laundry Love at Grace Church has already hosted two events, and the parish is aiming to host one event a month. The program’s leadership committee hosted a detergent drive to collect supplies, and has partnered with a local Laundromat a short walk from Grace Church.
At the Laundromat, volunteers check in the guests (with first names and last initials for privacy), while other volunteers distribute detergent and swipe the reloadable cards used to pay for laundry. Guests are asked to limit their laundry to three loads.
“Then it’s just hanging out,” Laskey said. “So everyone’s chatting… last time our priest [the Rev. Chris Morck] came and prayed with some people. The whole process takes a little over an hour, so there’s a lot of downtime in which we can have great interactions with people.”
The first Laundry Love event attracted 26 people, and the second brought in 42. Grace Church publicizes the event through the church’s food ministries, and through other food programs around New Bedford. Laskey is now in the process of shifting the responsibility of Laundry Love over to the other members of the committee, as her commitment with Life Together is ending in late June.
Laskey said that she wanted to help start a program that was “not about a privileged ‘us’ and a less privileged ‘them.’” The time spent waiting for washers and dryers is a chance for fellowship, when guests and volunteers can get to know each other in a casual environment.
“[The event] is a place to encounter people in a really genuine way. I’ve had really great conversations with folks at these events,” Laskey said. “Personally, it was transformative in that after these events I could walk around downtown New Bedford and recognize people, be able to greet them by name and have something to say. Oftentimes, folks on the street are anonymous and you’re told don’t make eye contact, these are dangerous people… and honestly that’s not Christian, and in another way it’s completely false.”
Laskey said that she sees Laundry Love as a community event, where everyone can both give and receive.
“The truth is all of us have needs. I might not need to get my laundry done, but I need community and I need compassion. I need things I can find in this event that I might not be able to find elsewhere," she said. "Everyone, volunteer or guest, is looking for something and able to find something in this event.”
Anyone can assemble a group to start a Laundry Love location in their neighborhood. Laundry Love provides several resources, including a get started guide, here.
--Ellen Stuart Kittle