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January 22, 2022

Pop up Neighbor Through Laundry: All It Costs Is to Care Enough to Care

Karen Windon, Suncoast Campaign for Grade-Level Reading

Although it’s been nearly a month since I had the privilege to participate in my first Pop Up Neighbor Through Laundry event, vignettes of that experience keep circling in my mind. They pop up at the strangest times, reminding me of the abundance of blessings we can bestow upon others. Every. Single. Day.

I can’t help but remember the two men who were doing laundry side by side, without speaking or even acknowledging each other’s existence. They were not unkind, but each lost in their own thoughts, with the silent drudgery of laundry. As I began to engage one in conversation, he pulled a pencil out of the load of clothes he was washing, and we started to laugh about how it might have gotten there. I jokingly asked the second man if he needed to use it to write his life story, and he shook his head no and turned back to his laundry. And then, he turned back to us, asking if it was a #2 pencil. The first man replied in the affirmative, and the other began reminiscing about the days in school where a #2 pencil was the big requirement. Within moments, the two were laughing and remembering school shenanigans from 50 years prior, with all racial barriers dissolving in those memories. It was, in a word, beautiful.

There was the couple who came in to do their laundry, and were told it was free today. As our young volunteers helped them with their laundry, the woman said with wonder in her voice, “I just can’t believe this is happening. I have never seen anything like this before. I have never seen ANYTHING like this before. Wow. I have never seen anything like this EVER.” I turned to look at her, and there were tears in her eyes. Her companion simply said, “We needed this today,” to which she replied, “Yes, we did.” I don’t know the story behind their feelings. But it was evident that this was a gift beyond laundry.

I think of a sweet woman who said she was 74 years old and who was just overjoyed. “Honey, you are a gift. Always remember, you are a gift.” We chatted back and forth over the next hour, and as she was leaving, she asked if it was ok for her to give me a hug. And with her infinite wisdom, she reminded me, “Honey, the ability to do laundry for free is wonderful. But the real gift here is caring enough to connect.”

And so, as we go through our daily lives, I hope we each remember that all it costs is to care enough to care. To connect. To look in someone’s eyes and remember the person and not the situation or the circumstance. To give another the dignity of conversation. And to remember that the small things can often be the most important.


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