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August 29, 2022

Just Right: Pop-Up Neighbor Through Laundry — Port Charlotte

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

Editor’s Note: Since 2018, albeit interrupted by COVD, SCGLR has hosted 18 Pop-Up Neighbor Through Laundry events providing 708 families with 7,222 loads of laundry free thanks to The Patterson Foundation—averaging ten loads per family—that’s a lot of suds!

I’m sure you are all familiar with the story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears. Goldilocks searches for the porridge, chair, and bed that feel “just right.” The phrase “just right” implies a sense of comfort, relaxation, and happiness. Would you be surprised to learn that my most recent “just right” moment happened at 11:00am on a Saturday morning in the middle of a SuperMatt Laundromat in Port Charlotte, Florida? Here’s what happened.

From time to time, in various laundromats across the Suncoast region, The Patterson Foundation and the Suncoast Campaign for Grade-Level Reading, in partnership with the Laundry Project, assemble Pop-Up Neighbor Through Laundry events. As a surprise, all the laundry fees for anyone who walks through the door are covered for several hours. There are snacks and drinks laid out on a table for everyone to enjoy, a colorful book nook set up with books the children can take home to add to their home libraries, and many community partners from organizations like United Way of Charlotte County, the Florida Department of Health in Charlotte County, Charlotte County Libraries & History, Kids Thrive!, and Charlotte County Sheriff’s Office who come to spend the morning sharing their expertise and their hearts with the laundromat patrons.

The latest Pop-Up Neighbor Through Laundry event was held on Saturday, August 27, 2022. As people pulled up, they realized something special was happening. The parking lot of the SuperMatt Laundromat featured Lizzy the Literacy Bus — a brightly colored bus filled with books children could take home. Lizzy travels throughout Charlotte County, bringing resources to children and families through the efforts of the Charlotte County Chamber of Commerce Leadership Class of 2019, the Boys and Girls Club of Charlotte County, the United Way of Charlotte County, and the Kiwanis Punta Gorda After Hours Club.

As people approached the doors of the laundromat, their wonder at the bus quickly turned to smiles, laughter, and, yes, even dancing when they learned their laundry fees were covered. Volunteers helped people bring their laundry to the machines, and conversations started to take place naturally. Cell phones were pulled out as people began to share their good fortune with their friends and loved ones, inviting them to come down to the laundromat to join them.

By 11:00am, the laundromat was hopping! I looked up from a conversation with Charity, a certified nursing assistant who lives in Port Charlotte and commutes 55 minutes daily to work at an assisted living facility in Sarasota County, and as I scanned the room, I saw a school board member reading aloud and giggling with three children in the book nook; two fourteen-year-old volunteers helping a grandmother and her granddaughter bring in multiple garbage bags full of soiled clothes, each of them with a wide smile on their face as the grandmother said to anyone who would listen, “This is a blessing, this is a real blessing!” Two men standing near the dryers, having a passionate discussion about baseball with two of the community partners volunteering at the event while clothes spun behind them; The executive director of United Way Suncoast in a serious conversation about the financial help that is available through Season of Sharing with a woman whose family is struggling with rent and utility payments; and about a dozen other people laughing, smiling, and sharing their lives and hearts with each other. 

From the tip of my toes to the top of my head, I was awash in the feeling that this moment was “just right.” Connecting through kindness, conversation, and shared experience took a room full of strangers and transformed us into a room full of neighbors. 

What a wonderful way to spend a Saturday morning!


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