Clean laundry may seem a little thing to most people, but to the homeless and working poor, it’s a considerable expense — $10 or more — which can leave them wearing soiled and smelly clothing for weeks, affecting their self-esteem and sense of control over their lives. 

That’s why Ashland’s First Congregational United Church of Christ a year ago started sponsoring a “Laundry Love” event at Henry’s Laundromat on the second Saturday of each month. Church members hand out all the quarters people need over a three-hour period, and provide a party-like atmosphere, with music performed by a homeless man, a big vat of minestrone-chicken soup and lots of warm conversation with church members.

“It’s a cost I normally can’t afford, so I often go to the free box (on Water Street) and get clean clothes, but that’s wasteful,” says Aaron Yoscovitch, as he waits for his clothes to dry. “This is such a nice thing the community put together. Many of us don’t even bathe, let alone wash clothes. You get in such a depressed state, so this makes us feel more human.”

Stuffing a washing machine while church volunteer Alex Reid put in quarters, Tony Sanders said he normally washes his clothes in the creek, then has to carry them all day.

“But word of mouth is getting around about this," he said. "It’s much appreciated. The church does a good job.”

Kate Wenzell, who describes herself as “temporarily housed,” says, “This is awesome because it’s so expensive to wash clothes. It feels like community here. Everyone hangs and enjoys each other’s company and eats the great food. It’s a family feeling. Once a month laundry helps a lot.”

The project served 45 people in September, said volunteer organizer Hedy Schoonover, adding that they also give out clothing, books for children and sleeping bags, all donated by members. The soup is made by church members Anna Witt and Laurie Carter.

In a presentation to the Ashland Housing and Human Services Commission in June, Reid said the church had spent $2,000 in quarters and noted it costs $15 to $20 for a family of four to do laundry. The panel explored grant opportunities, including applying in 2017 for a Community Development Block Grant, so laundry could be provided on a weekly basis.

Laundry Love is a nationwide movement started in 2004 in Ventura, Calif., when, according to laundrylove.org, a homeless man was asked “How can we come alongside your life in a way that would matter?”

He replied, “If I had clean clothes, I think people would treat me like a human being.”

The vision took off and, to date, 600,000 loads of laundry have been done and 450,000 people cared for. The project also helps with gas, medical needs, school supplies and other costs.

“It’s part of our outreach, to help people less fortunate than us,” said church volunteer Don Seebart, who estimates the church spends $500 for each laundry event. “And it helps us go along with Christian commitment.”

 “It levels the playing field," said Reid. "We offer the quarters to anyone who asks for them. We have great conversations with women folding their clothing. It’s one of the most common ways women have talked over the ages. We talk about life, marriage, how to raise children, who you’re voting for. They’re very grateful. I’ve had people give me their last crumpled-up dollar and tell me to pass it to the next person.”

John Darling is an Ashland freelance writer. Reach him at jdarling@jeffnet.org.