Sometimes, when confronted with big challenges, people freeze. But not always.
Brandon Carleton is a resident of the Quad Cities who, last May, attended a conference in California and heard from an organizer of Laundry Love. The project began on the West Coast when a homeless man — Eric, who went by the nickname of T-Bone — was asked what would make a difference in his life.
“If I had clean clothes,” Eric responded, “I think people would treat me like a human being.”
That was 12 years ago and, in the wake of that conversation, Laundry Love was born. At its most basic level, it provides free laundry services to those in need, but the benefits hardly stop there.
When Carleton, who also runs a small church out of his home, learned of the need and accomplishments of the program, he says he knew it was something he wanted to bring to the Quad Cities. His congregation, at that time comprised of three people, began to save quarters and look for a laundromat willing to partner with them.
“We held our first event in July 2015,” he told me by phone this week. “Every week we learn something new.”
Laundry Love organizers announce a time and place where people can come and do their wash for free. Soap and other supplies are provided, as are the quarters to run the machines. Participants load, unload and fold their own clothing.
The first event in Rock Island, Ill. cost $380 in quarters. Soon a like-minded, small church group in Davenport opened a secondary location. At the most recent event, held Jan. 6, about $1,100 in quarters was spent between the two locations, Rock Island and Davenport. For the past few months Laundry Love QC has been visited by a person from Muscatine, and Carleton expects that community will soon launch its own version of the charity.
“People are getting their clothes cleaned and, yes, that’s important,” Carleton said. “But you know what you have when the washing machines are loaded and running? Time. When there is nothing else to do, people talk to each other and community comes together.”
At first, he said, this was just something he and his wife, Amanda, wanted to do. Now, he considers many who come to the laundry nights his friends.
“It’s really no different from a friend phoning and telling you they needed $5 to wash their clothes. You wouldn’t hesitate,” he said.
The Quad Cities organization exists due to the generosity of the involved churches, other area religious groups, local businesses and individuals.
Organizers are also considering hosting a trivia night or developing a process for monthly sponsorships. It’s a big ask for a volunteer group of about 10 people, but one they don’t regret or bemoan.
“There are a lot of good ideas out there, ways for people to step up and help other people,” he said. “Sometimes it just takes someone willing to hold the clipboard and get started.”
Clean clothing, or at least navigation of the logistics and expense required to have clean clothing, is something many people take for granted. For the poor and marginalized living in shelters, motels, cars or on the streets, however, it becomes one more barrier. It can also be an added financial hardship for income-strapped families living independently, leading some families to hand wash in sinks or bathtubs to save money.
Unwashed clothing and bedding can be a storehouse for parasites, bacteria and viruses. MRSA is one such bacteria, according to national Laundry Love organizers, that threatens the health of children, the elderly and people with low resistance due to poor nutrition and lack of proper health care.
For youth there can be added emotional strain when unwashed clothing are worn to school.
Adults may find employment interviews even more daunting when clean clothing is unavailable.
And, as the Quad Cities volunteers will tell you, coming together in the neutral space of a laundromat builds community and adds to the local economy through support of a local business.
It’s a need that also exists in the Creative Corridor.
While some area shelters or advocacy organizations have laundry facilities, the machines often are already busy with the bedding and other wash created by the facility.
Even when they are made available to individuals or families, the community-building aspect of Laundry Love isn’t present.
Too many times, when confronted with large societal issues such as homelessness or poverty, we wonder what we can do.
Carleton and the Quad Cities volunteers have provided an answer.
This column by Lynda Waddington originally published in The Gazette on January 17, 2016.