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December 13, 2021

Spreading Literacy, Pineapples, and Joy: Pop-Up Neighbor Through Laundry

Beth Duda, director Suncoast Campaign for Grade-Level Reading

It wasn’t exactly a holiday party, although you could feel a sense of celebration in the air. Smiles, conversations, snacks, and laughter were enjoyed on a recent Saturday morning in Bradenton, Florida. The occasion? A Pop-Up Neighbor Through Laundry event at the SuperMatt Laundromat on 15th Street East.  

Thanks to the generosity of The Patterson Foundation and the expertise of The Laundry Project, the Suncoast Campaign for Grade-Level Reading (SCGLR) provided free laundry services for everyone who walked through the doors from 9:30am until 1:00pm. SCGLR also distributed new children’s books to attending families thanks to the Early Learning Coalition of Manatee County.

Additionally, there were literacy activities, masks, and hand-sanitizer dispensers provided by Soar in 4Food Bank of Manatee brought a truck and distributed 4,000 pounds of goodies, including blankets, fresh pineapple, baked bread, and Tropicana Orange juice.

Many community neighbors came to read to the children while their parents washed, dried, and folded their clothes. There was even a visit from Santa Claus and an adorable snowperson.

During this Pop Up Neighbor Through Laundry event, 29 families were served, with 419 loads of laundry washed and dried.

The average cost of washing and drying a load of clothes in a laundromat is $6.50. Think of households like the one Marsha* is running. She has five children and four grandchildren under the age of six living with her. That’s a household of ten people and a large quantity of clothing, bed linens, and towels to keep clean. 

Most of the family came to the laundromat to help Marsha, and when they discovered they could do their laundry for free, their joy and relief were palpable. They were even encouraged to go back home to gather the items they could not regularly wash. Marsha exclaimed, “This is a blessing, a true blessing!”.

Jennifer, another woman with a small child at the laundromat, shared that she had put off doing laundry for weeks. Her husband had been laid-off from his job right after Thanksgiving, and money was very tight. As the piles of laundry grew taller and taller, she kept doing the math in her head on how much it would cost to get all of the laundry clean. On Friday night, she said to her husband, “I know we are saving all our money for rent, but we have to do some of this laundry.” She carefully selected the items they would take to the laundromat, leaving many items behind. When they arrived and saw the sign announcing free laundry, she felt as if it were a miracle. She, too, was encouraged to go back home and get all of her laundry.

One of the volunteers at the event was moved by the gratitude many of the families showed. “I will never again take for granted how fortunate I am to have a washer and dryer in my home. I will think of this day every time I get ready to do a load of wash.”

Another volunteer said, “I never before thought about how having clean sheets is a luxury. Seeing how meaningful this day is for people is humbling and joyful.”


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