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February 9, 2023

Far More Than the Numbers

Beth Duda, director of the Suncoast Campaign for Grade-Level Reading

Recently, the SuperMatt Laundromat in Punta Gorda was a flurry of activity as 46 families had all of their laundry fees paid during the Pop-Up Neighbor Through Laundry event hosted by the Suncoast Campaign for Grade-Level Reading and The Laundry Project, with generous support from The Patterson Foundation. The grand total for the day was 468 loads of laundry. That number is impressive, but the day encompassed far more than the number conveys.

The Pop-Up was a surprise for participating families. You could see a range of emotions from relief to disbelief to joy as they walked through the door with their bundles of clothes and learned that The Patterson Foundation would be paying all their laundry expenses.

Some of the families served are still suffering consequences from Hurricane Ian, which left a path of destruction and flooding across Charlotte County. Destroyed houses, difficulties with FEMA and insurance companies, delays in reconstruction, and uncertain living situations were topics of conversation all over the laundromat. With coordination from United Way of Charlotte County, community partners were present at the Pop-Up Neighbor, offering dialogue, understanding, connections to services, and hope. Participating organizations included:

Parents also expressed concern about the learning loss their children had been experiencing due to COVID-19 and hurricane-related disruptions. The Suncoast Campaign for Grade-Level Reading set up a book nook in the corner, with volunteer readers, including two school board members, sharing free books and stories with the children. Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library was recruiting more young readers, and Charlotte County Public Library set up a table with library information and free glitter tattoos. Lizzy the Literacy Bus, a joint project of Charlotte County Chamber of Commerce Leadership Class of 2019, the Boys and Girls Club of Charlotte County, United Way of Charlotte County, and the Kiwanis Punta Gorda After Hours Club, was onsite with more free books for the children. All Faiths Food Bank and The Patterson Foundation provided snacks, water, fresh fruit, and juice, helping to create the feeling of a community party inside the laundromat.

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