On July 14, 2018, the Suncoast Campaign for Grade-Level Reading (SCGLR) and The Laundry Project teamed up to hold a Pop-Up Neighbor event at SuperMatt Laundromat/Lavandería in Bradenton. For three hours, everyone who walked into the laundromat had their laundry fees paid, thanks to the generosity of The Patterson Foundation.
“This is a real blessing. You have no idea how much this means to us.”
The smiles on the faces of the men and woman greeted at the front door were hard to miss when the volunteers mentioned that all of their laundry costs would be taken care of. Their smiles only got wider as they took in the transformation of the laundromat. The ordinary blue folding station was now a bountiful food buffet. The back-corner bookshelf had morphed into a charming reading nook, complete with an alphabet rug and a rocking chair, and the usually quiet stay-to-yourself atmosphere had turned into a neighborhood community party.
There were volunteers at every bank of machines ready to swipe their cards for free washing and drying, volunteers ready to lend a hand in transporting laundry from car to machines, and still more volunteers reading books to the children. Conversations between the laundromat patrons and the volunteers came quickly and easily, and before long, laughter rang out from all corners.
The children couldn’t wait to share their experiences from the book nook with their parents and grandparents:
“Mom, mom! There is a real astronaut sharing stories from space!”
“Poppy, did you see? There are firemen reading books right now, and they brought their truck. Can we go look at it, Poppy?”
“Gramma…look! It’s a Pirate! (Marty the Marauder, mascot of the Bradenton Marauders baseball team, was in attendance, dancing and posing for pictures) Let’s get our picture!”
There were also some very real conversations going on. Answers to the question, “How much do you usually spend on laundry each week,” varied from $10 to $50. One couple shared that they take turns selling their plasma to have money for laundry and groceries for their family. A young mother teared up as she explained that she and her husband had been struggling trying to decide how many clothes they could afford to wash today and still be able to buy food.
“Today is a real blessing. You have no idea how much this means to us. We were able to wash all our clothes, pick up fresh produce from the Food Bank truck, and eat lunch without spending a dime. I thank God for this tremendous blessing.”
We met a woman, Kesha, who hadn’t been able to do all her laundry for over six months. She lives in public housing, and she had been given a deadline of Tuesday to get the piles of clothes up off the floor or risk losing her place to live. Kesha has been caring for her ailing grandmother, and freely admitted that things had just been a bit too much for her lately. The quantity of laundry that needed washing along with the projected cost was overwhelming for her. When a friend called her to tell her about the Pop-Up Neighbor free laundry event, she couldn’t believe it and thought it was too good to be true. She realized it was indeed true when two volunteers helped her unload two carloads of laundry, and the team inside the laundromat quickly had eight washers going.
Mothers shared that because the Pop-Up Neighbor event had paid their laundry fees, they now had money to buy school supplies, clothing for their growing children, or some “extra” cash to buy a birthday cake for their child. One woman shyly said that she and her husband might go out to dinner or go to a movie. “It’s been a really long time since we’ve been able to have a luxury like that.”
Near the end of the experience, one of the volunteers took me aside to say, “I feel like this is step back in history. There was a time when communities all came together to help each other, that’s what this feels like. I feel a little selfish about today, I know I’m here to help others, but I’m having the time of my life”.
Neighbors helping neighbors…with joy and generosity! What’s better than that? Won’t you be my neighbor?