It's 7 p.m. on a weeknight at a strip mall in Huntington Beach, Calif., and people have been lined up for hours outside a laundromat here. They've been waiting for a chance to do their wash for free. As they file in, volunteers direct them to the machines and help them to supplies.
This is "Laundry Love" at work — a ministry that raises money to pay for detergent, dryer sheets and quarters for machines.
Laundry is a daunting chore for many people, but for the working poor, the cost of doing laundry — not to mention the time involved in hauling it to a laundromat — can be prohibitive. It can also mean going without other basic essentials.
The idea for Laundry Love began at an Episcopal congregation in Ventura, Calif., and slowly but surely, it's spreading. Now, more than 70 churches, mosques and synagogues around the country have adopted the practice.
For Giovanna Cortez, Laundry Love has become a necessity. With three kids, she has lots of laundry — and she lost her job in March.
"I have to come because I have no money for laundry," Cortez says. She says she probably saved $50 last month by using the Laundry Love service.
Shannon Kassoff, one of the organizers of Laundry Love in Huntington Beach, says it's about more than just free laundry. This group was formed by people who became disillusioned with traditional church, and started taking over this laundromat once a month.
"This is our church," Kassoff says. "It is probably the best way to be involved in other people's lives, not just handing out food in a soup kitchen, or whatever. We get to know them very well, and that's probably the best part of this whole deal."
David Clarke echoes that sentiment. Clarke never thought he would be on the receiving end of charity, until he lost his job as an aerospace machinist several years ago. He's been struggling to get by since, working part time at a grocery store. Laundry Love has become an essential part of his routine, and an opportunity for a night out.
"It gives me the time to come and socialize with some nice upbeat people, and feel a little bit better about myself," Clarke says.
The volunteers enjoy it, too.
"I just like serving. Really, that's all it is," Ken Kawamura says. "I try to find things where people are ignored or also situations that people don't want to engage or, quote unquote, 'get their hands dirty.' "
Practicing the Biblical commandment to serve your neighbor can seem daunting at times, says volunteer Shannon Kassoff — until you see the laundromat in action.
"This is probably the most meaningful thing that we do, because we're taking our love outside of the walls of church," Kassoff says. "Bringing it to the people and sharing what we think is an amazing experience, and that's just love."
ARUN RATH, HOST:
The essential act of doing laundry is a chore many of us dread. A lot of busy people outsource it if they can. But for the working poor, the $20 to $40 a week cost and time involved hauling clothes to the Laundromat can be daunting. From member station KCRW in Santa Monica, Lisa Napoli introduces us to a growing movement to relieve some of the burden.
LISA NAPOLI, BYLINE: It's 7 o'clock on a week night at a coin-operated Laundromat in a strip mall in Huntington Beach, California, 40 miles south of Los Angeles.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: All right guys. Welcome out thanks you again for coming. We cannot do this without you.
NAPOLI: People have been lined up outside for several hours now waiting for the chance to do their wash for free.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Not to cling so much to it and pass it on, amen.
NAPOLI: After orientation and a brief prayer, volunteers direct the first-in-line inside to the machines and the washing begins. Giovanna Cortez has three kids and loads of dirty laundry to prove it. She lost her job in March.
GIOVANNA CORTEZ: I have to come because I have no money for laundry.
NAPOLI: So how much money do you save?
CORTEZ: I probably saved last month, like, 50 bucks. You save on soap too so it's 50 bucks plus soap. Yeah.
NAPOLI: The free wash and supplies are provided courtesy of a ministry called Laundry Love. A dozen years ago, an Episcopal congregation in Ventura, California came up with the idea. Now, more than 70 churches, mosques, and synagogues around the country practice Laundry Love. Here in Huntington Beach, a group of people disillusioned with traditional church started taking over this Laundromat once a month. They raise the $500 to pay for quarters, detergent, and dryer sheets. Shannon Kassoff is one of the organizers.
This is your church now?
SHANNON KASSOFF: This is our church, this is absolutely our church. It is probably the best way to be involved in other people’s lives, not just handing out food in a soup kitchen or whatever. We get to know them very well, and that’s probably the best part of this whole deal.
NAPOLI: Everyone mingles together like a giant spin cycle. It's hard to tell who's here to wash and who's here to assist.
DAVID CLARKE: Wait a minute while I add my bleach here. Oh, the bleach light is on.
NAPOLI: David Clarke never imagined he’d be on the receiving side of a charity. He lost his job as an aerospace machinist several years ago and now gets by, barely, working part-time at a grocery store. Laundry Love has become his big night out.
CLARKE: Gives me the time to come and socialize with some nice, upbeat people, feel a little bit better about myself.
NAPOLI: Do you know how much money you'll save tonight or each time you come?
CLARKE: Yeah. I would say about $15 probably. And that's a lot these days.
NAPOLI: Helping people has become a spiritual practice for volunteers like Ken Kawamura.
KEN KAWAMURA: You know, I just like serving, really that’s all it is. I try to find things where people are ignored or also situations that people don’t want to engage or, quote-unquote, "get their hands dirty." Some of these people, they come here once a month, and they probably do their laundry once a month. Like right here, we have a couple, we have 18 loads.
NAPOLI: Practicing the biblical commandment to serve your neighbor can seem daunting at times, says volunteer Shannon Kassoff, until you see the Laundromat and action
KASSOFF: This is probably the most meaningful thing that we do because we're taking our love outside of the walls of church and bringing it to the people and sharing what we think is an amazing experience, and that's just love, yeah.
NAPOLI: One laundry load at a time. For NPR News, I'm Lisa Napoli. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.