Hope can be found in surprising places – even in a basket of clean, fresh laundry. Smiling faces of all ages filled SuperMatt Laundry in Port Charlotte on August 5th for a Pop-Up Neighbor Through Laundry event. Funded by The Patterson Foundation, free services were provided to 35 families, totaling 373 loads. Pop-Up Neighbor events are a community partnership with the Laundry Project, United Way of Charlotte County, and the Suncoast Campaign for Grade-Level Reading. Joined by UWCC’s newest staff members and our wonderful Hope Mobilizers, I was overwhelmed by the outpouring of love demonstrated amid humming appliances. My colleagues were equally inspired by the people we met and the stories shared at the event, which included books for children to read with volunteers, food pantry items, and information on community programs.
“I have never been in a laundromat where people were laughing, smiling, and chatting with one another,” said Gail McKee, Ageless Engagement Director for UWCC. “This event sparked happiness in so many ways: people getting free laundry, socialization, learning about community services, and children reading. It was a day of hope for everyone.”
Pop-Ups shed light on how many people in our community and region seek resources. One family drove from Arcadia because the cost of laundry is higher there, and they have been struggling to make ends meet since Hurricane Ian hit last year. Their home suffered damage, which has not yet been repaired, and they have been helping elderly parents with damage costs as well. Fortunately, we referred them to United at Work, UWCC’s financial assistance program for those impacted by Ian.
Others were directed toward UWCC’s Season of Sharing (SOS), which provides one-time emergency financial assistance. A mom burdened by an increase in rent and utilities, whose daughter suffers from asthma, was happy to learn about SOS. Another woman worked for more than three hours doing laundry for her family of four. Gail checked in with her often and shared, “Normally, she does it every two weeks; however, today, she had one month’s worth. She was very thankful for the kindness of this day.”
As parents did laundry, children visited an art table or read with volunteers, two of whom were school board members Cara Reynolds and Kim Amontree. The Suncoast Campaign for Grade-Level Reading, which promotes reading proficiency and school readiness, provided a wide selection of books to choose from. Jill Swan, our new Family Empowerment Director, enjoyed reading with a little girl who was shy at first but warmed up quickly after finding a colorful book she loved. It was such a joy hearing Jill talk about the experience.
“She picked a book called Hi! Fly Guy,” Jill said. “We talked about sight words, and she worked hard on sounding out words. Toward noon, she came back to the book area again! This event promotes literacy and encourages children to take a book home. One little boy wanted only to read about fresh fruits and vegetables. The best of both worlds: reading and healthy eating!”
Seeing new UWCC staff members light up while sharing hope freshened my perspective on why community projects are so important. While there, I met a City of Punta Gorda Waste Division employee, still in uniform after a hard day’s work. I thanked him for all he does for the community. A retired educator showed an interest in volunteering with UWCC. Truly, hope is spread by serving in the community where people gather to do day-to-day things. Meeting people where they are, like Saturday morning at SuperMatt, is how we can make an impact. Of course, our efforts wouldn’t be possible without the help of donors and volunteers willing to be Hope Mobilizers.
If you want to learn more about being a HOPE Mobilizer, please visit www.unitedwayccfl.org/volunteer. We have another Pop-Up Laundry scheduled, so if this happy event interests you, please indicate so on the form.
For more information about United Way of Charlotte County’s mission, Mobilizing the power of our community to break the cycle of poverty, please contact Angie Matthiessen, Executive Director, at firstname.lastname@example.org.