"If I had clean clothes, people would treat me as a human being."
That chilling statement, made by a homeless man living in Ventura, California, became the impetus for Laundry Love. Founded 12 years ago by Greg Russinger, the movement partners with individuals, groups and laundromats to care for the poor, vulnerable and marginalized throughout the United States. To date, Laundry Love has done an estimated 1 million loads of laundry and assisted more than 750,000 people.
Now, it's coming to Baton Rouge through the efforts of Lester Mut, the Rev. Tommy Dillon and the congregation of St. Margaret's Episcopal Church. The first laundry night is set for 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. Monday, Aug. 28, at JD Duz Laundry & Cleaners, 14027 Perkins Road. Organizers are relying on word of mouth and flyers distributed in the area to get the word out to those who can benefit — single moms, the elderly and families for whom doing laundry taxes their budget, and the homeless — from Laundry Love.
"It's the modern-day version of foot washing," says Dillon, who found out about Laundry Love from a fellow Episcopal priest when he was living and working in California. "His congregation was the first Episcopal church to do this.
"It's a way to take the church into the world ... a creative way to be in the presence of God," he continues. "When I moved back to Baton Rouge, our vestry wanted a way for our congregation to have a better interaction within the community. This was a perfect way to do that."
Dillon turned to Mut, a relatively new member of the church, to become the program's outreach coordinator.
"I told Les and he ran with it," Dillon says, laughing.
"It's not just about washing clothes; it's about people," explains Mut. "As we interact with them over the simple task of doing laundry, they become our friends. That's what I want to share."
First they had to find a laundry partner. A couple of conversations with the owners of JD Duz, which is located about a mile from the church, was all that was needed.
"We got a $500 grant from the Krewe of Apollo and several members also want to volunteer," says Mut. "We're working with grocery and dollar stores to donate detergent, bleach, fabric softener — everything you need to do laundry."
Laundry Love volunteers do not wash the clothes; they provide the supplies and quarters to operate the machines.
"The children of the church are collecting quarters. Members can donate detergent and stuff here at the church," says Mut. "I got Greenoaks (Funeral Home) to donate cookies and bottled water. It's a real collaborative partnership."
Each participant can wash three loads of laundry.
"I hope this is a way for us get to know each other better. It's not a recruitment for the church but a way to help those in need," explains Mut. "It's something I've been wanting to do for a long time, and working with Tommy, it's becoming a reality."
"This gives people a chance to put their faith into action," says Dillon. "It's been great seeing the response of this faith community ... People don't realize the level of poverty in this area. Hopefully, this will inspire others to start their own Laundry Love projects."
Dillon, Mut and several volunteers from St. Margaret's got together on a recent Monday night to watch a Laundry Love training video and visit the laundromat.
"Monday has always been the traditional wash day in south Louisiana, so we're planning to hold Laundry Love on the fourth Monday of every month," says Mut.
"We're preparing in advance so, if this blossoms, we're ready," adds Dillon.
For more information on Laundry Love, call the church at (225) 766-8314 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.