Editor’s Note: *Names have been changed to protect privacy
“This is a true blessing.”
“I feel like I won the lottery today.”
“This means a lot, more than you even know.”
“Bless you for blessing us like this.”
“It feels like an honest-to-God miracle!”
What triggered these comments? Would you be surprised if I said laundry?
On Saturday, December 14, the Suncoast Campaign for Grade-Level Reading held a Pop-Up Neighbor Through Laundry event at the SuperMatt Laundromat in Port Charlotte, FL. For four hours, everyone’s laundry fees were covered thanks to the generosity of The Patterson Foundation.
United Way of Charlotte County, Charlotte County Public Libraries, MCR Health, and the Early Learning Coalition of Florida’s Heartland joined other community partners, and volunteers, essentially throwing a party in the laundromat, complete with delicious food and beverages. The children were entertained by “Celebrity Readers,” and each child received a free book, thanks to the Early Learning Coalition of Manatee County and Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library.
Smiles of surprise, wonder, and gratitude lit up the faces of the thirty-three families who benefitted from this special event. The word blessing was shared countless times. It floated about the room lighting up the hearts and faces of all of the neighbors sharing this remarkable experience. By the end of four hours, 287 loads of laundry had been washed while people shared conversation and laughter.
Each person in the laundromat had a story to share.* Jenny was on her way home from working the night-shift. She had packed her car the night before with several towering piles of laundry generated by her and her three children. She carefully counted her money, figuring she had just under $100 to spend on laundry detergent and washing and drying. She knew she didn’t have enough money to do all of the laundry but figured she’d bring it all and sort it by importance as she was loading the machines. She let out a small gasp of delight when she discovered that all of her laundry would get done today, and for free. She was smiling ear to ear as she selected a book for each of her daughters and imagined how she would use the money saved on laundry fees to have a “much better Christmas.”
Teresa looked worn-out as she entered the laundromat. She had one small bag of laundry to do, saying, “You travel light when you are homeless.” Teresa had just left her doctor’s office after getting intravenous antibiotics for a MRSA infection. This on-going infection has made her weak and weary of human interaction. “I’ve been homeless since August” she shared. “I’m fortunate that I still have a car, so most nights I try to find a crowded parking lot to sleep in.” Although she has a few family members near-by, none of them had the ability to take her in. “It’s real complicated,” she said. “I don’t need a lot, just a room with maybe a TV, but I don’t know where to get help.” Teresa was grateful for the conversations she was able to have at the laundromat. As she drove away, she had a paper full of the names and phone numbers of several local agencies that may be able to help her navigate her current situation.
Before Wendy found herself driving to the laundromat, she was in bed having a “very serious discussion” with God. Recently, she discovered her septic system was backed up, making it impossible to do any laundry at home. She didn’t have the money to fix the septic system, and she watched the pile of dirty clothes made by the five people living in her house grow into a mountain. “I didn’t know how I was going to be able to afford to do all this laundry. I was praying this morning, asking God for a solution to this growing mound of dirty clothes. When I was finished with my prayer, I happened to look at social media, and I saw a posting about the Pop-Up Neighbor Through Laundry Event. “I thought it sounded too good to be true but decided to drive over, just in case it was real. And here you are. It is real! I am blessed! For real! We are all blessed.”
Today, neighbors helping neighbors made us all feel blessed.