2nd Wednesdays at 6pm Beach Coin Laundry 19072 Beach Bl (x Garfield) Huntington Beach


As we began this months Laundrylove in Huntington Beach, I was reminded that 'angels' are everywhere. It comes out of a belief that there is a difference between the thought "If there are angels...." and the thought "Since there are angels...".
We began the time, right after Shannon took us through her loving orientation (I intentionally use that word because it is indeed her way of loving the volunteers- inviting them to see this task or that act as an opportunity to love) with a prayer, and I asked the group to consider that there were inner and outer angels present this night.
We see them in the volunteers, in the Bracken's Food Truck folks who cooked and served a healthy dinner, in the staff like Gabby and her family that maintain the Laundromat, and in the guests themselves.
As I walk the line with Christian, doing the work of signing up guests(first name, number of loads?, groceries?) we now know that the stories begin in that line. We've learned to let go (mostly) of the need to get done, and to listen. Stories of families in crisis, victories in housing, changes in health.
I stopped to listen to a story of PTSD, and the need for healing prayer. I notice Christian doing the same, carefully listening to one person's story. That we are entrusted with these sacred stories is the miracle of Laundrylove.

This night we were led, after Shannon's opening talk, by John and Shevawn. Shevawn has mastered the art of guiding the flow of the work that must be done to accommodate over 30 people and over a hundred loads of laundry; to navigate the complexities of personalities and logistics. And this night we had an abundance of volunteers. Enough that we could offer the gift of conversation to our guests who come to talk and have some community that is outside of their normal circle.

We missed Josh and his family. Josh is the one who dances for two hours while his parents do the laundry, and try to remind him that he needs to be careful; Josh has some bad feet. We think that Josh is probably recovering from foot surgery.

And Joshua, our resident street artist, is reluctant to embrace that title, but with a little coaxing grabs the chalk and heads to the sidewalk. "Give me a word" he says. "Grace" I reply. With the movement of a ballet dancer he begins to magically swish and mark a G, and before long the word moves across the sidewalk. "Do you like Mario" he says, referring to the video game character. "Yes" I reply, since my now grown kids liked the game. So he tops off the word Grace with the head of Mario popping over the top.

These are my anecdotes. There are dozens more for each of the volunteers. After the night is over, we sometimes talk about those stories, and I am always humbled and awestruck at the level of deep sharing that goes on within the noise and confusion and activity that comes with doing laundry in a crowded laundromat.

Sugarbear, a quiet man who doesn't do laundry, and, until recently, didn't accept food or clothing, has begun to hang closer. I say hello to him, and ask how he is doing. He replies that he is doing well, and it seems he is. Rory and Faye, who have adopted him in a sense, and have won him over to accepting food, agree that Sugarbear seems to be warming up to us tonight.

The Stones and David Bowie offer their music to us.

There are some conflicts. There are some difficult personalities. There are some hurt feelings as we try to enforce the curfew that the laundromat owner has asked us to try to observe.

But all in all, after over 5 years of doing this, with some of the same people, we are just as alive and fresh as when we began. Each night is a resurrection in some sense. And to some, what looks like a world of broken people when they walk in is now seen through the lens of compassion and love and generosity as a sign that God is coming to us in the faces and lives of these special friends. Or if you prefer, these angels.

Steve Bruce

The Laundrylove Promise

Recently I saw a video of Pope Francis in Mexico, visiting a hospital, and stopping to listen to a young woman sing Ave Maria.

Pope Francis Listens to Ave Maria

This reminds me of something my spiritual director told me about what the psychologist Carl Rogers called 'unconditional positive regard', defined as:

The central hypothesis of this approach can be briefly stated. It is that the individual has within him or her self vast resources for self-understanding, for altering her or his self-concept, attitudes, and self-directed behavior—and that these resources can be tapped if only a definable climate of facilitative psychological attitudes can be provided.

Laundrylove promises that at some point you will have the opportunity to practice this. February Laundrylove offered another opportunity for me.

Josh always seeks me out, no matter how busy I am (and this past Laundrylove I was really busy, filling in for Christian as the outside signup person working with Shevawn as the inside navigator).

He is always anxious to tell me what new movies he has acquired in the prior month, and how many points (dollars) he has amassed in his video game (at this point $485M). I always joke with him about his dollars, to share some with me, and his parents, especially if he becomes a billionaire.
I'd guess Josh is in his mid 20s, but obviously spends alot of time on his video console and watching movies. This is SO important to him, and he is so proud and anxious to share.

I saw Pope Francis give his undivided attention to this young woman, who I guessed was in cancer treatment by the head covering. It was exactly how I imagine Jesus was present to people. Something Ram Dass wrote about in 'Be Here Now'.

This is how I am with Josh. I don't set out to tell myself "Hey, when Josh comes around make sure you practice presence with him". It just happens.
I find myself always in recollection after a Laundrylove, recalling encounters where I wasn't present. But the promise that those moments will be there is always kept.

I try to tell others that these moments are available at Laundrylove, and they are moments of the pureness of love. There are fewer precious moments in life than these.

I give thanks to Josh and Laundrylove that I can experience this presence, practice what Jesus invited his disciples to practice, and genuinely listen in on a moment in another persons life.

And furthermore:

Thanks to Rev Gina Gore from St Wilfreds for offering ashes for Ash Wednesday. What a gift it was to our guests.

We managed to initiate a new rule to limit loads to 12, so we were able to finish much earlier than before. Thanks to Shevawn and others we were able to turn the laundromat over to the attendant Gabby on time.

Mary and Amanda, whom we met last year at the 1st annual Laundrylove convention in Pomona came up from San Diego to observe and volunteer as they discern whether to start a LL in their neighborhood. What a great joy to see them!

And Doug from Blessed Sacrament in Fullerton was also there to observe so that he can start a LL in Fullerton this month.

And finally, the folks from ICNA invited Christian and I to help out at their first LL in Anaheim on the 25th of February.

So apparently there is something to this LL stuff. And I think it is related to the promise that at some time everyone will be offered the opportunity to listen to someone who might otherwise be overlooked or forgotten. And what a blessing it is to respond in an unconditional positive regard.

Inspiring Others, and the Grace of a Locked Door

As we begin our 5th year at Huntington Beach Laundrylove, we realize that in addition to the growth in what we do (laundry and conversation), we have developed relationships that enable us to help our homeless and poor guests find hope in their lives.

We've written about Ted before. Newly homeless (about a year). Working hard to get off the streets. He was sleeping between two dumpsters for most of the year. He has needed two surgeries. His first surgery was for his arm. Illumination Foundation helped him find shelter for his recovery. Not long enough, but still, it was a blessing.
His second surgery needs a longer recovery time, and so he needed a longer term recovery option. While at Thanksgiving dinner he was offered a chance to move into a room for a few days. He continued to work at getting housing, and at the January LL we heard that he has at last found it- an apartment, with assistance from American Family Housing.
"The first thing I did was to go into my apartment, lock the door, and lay down on my bed. I was so happy. I was safe. The door was locked!"

Laundrylove and the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles also helped him pay for his car insurance so he could begin to care for himself, get through his recovery and rehab after surgery, and then begin to look for work (he was educated as an engineer).

After 4 years, the focus on helping our friends find housing is paying off. Wow! It wasn't the first time, but it's still powerful to see.

Our friends from the ICNA, who met with us last month about starting a Laundrylove in Anaheim, showed up to get a look first hand at how we choreograph our Laundrylove. Right away they told us that they had identified a laundromat in Anaheim, and plan to start in February. ICNA serves the community in Anaheim with a clinic, and feeds homeless in a nearby park. So this is a logical next step for them.
After 4 years, and inspiring at least 8 other Laundryloves in the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles, it's awesome to see our relationship with Nayyer and the Islamic Center of Orange County bear fruit with the ICNA Laundrylove.

Other than that, we were able to help with laundry for about 25 people this month.

We were a little more disciplined and so we were able to complete laundry early this month.

Christmas, Gospel Music, Street Art and Rinse Cycles

I walked outside about half way through last nights LL and here on the sidewalk in front of the Laundromat was this beautiful chalk street art, spelling Laundry, painted by the son of one of our newer guests. We are always amazed at what shows up at our Laundrylove celebrations.

The folks from St Wilfrid's Episcopal Church in Huntington Beach, who are one of our strongest supporters, brought us a traditional Christmas dinner, with turkey and gravy and mashed potatoes and stuffing, and all the fixings.

Meanwhile, the OCC Gospel Choir and Band sang Christmas songs while we dined. There were a lot of people last night, over 40 laundry guests and probably as many volunteers.
It was Josh's birthday, so we threw him a party, and ate birthday cake with his parents (Josh was a little busy dancing to the band):
 Here he is enjoying himself:

Meanwhile, the kids, led by Kayla, were busy decorating magic wands in the kids corner:

Rory and Faye handed out clothes again, and Nayyer brought socks, which are 'like gold' to our homeless friends. Kevin provided free haircuts, and we did a gazillion loads of laundry. 

Once again, with apologies to our attendant Gabby, we left at nearly midnight, as we helped Tom fold clothes and strap the bags to the trunk of his already stuffed car. Tom has been sleeping inside for the last few nights.

As I arrived, I noticed a man doing his laundry, and as others began loading up our grocery bags, I started chatting with him, since I was sure he was wondering what was going on. I explained Laundrylove, which Christian and I are now pretty good at, and before the night was over he was offering to bring us stuff from his mini-mart that he owns. It's a brotherhood and sisterhood of humanity.

The Gospel Choir, singing from the top of their lungs and bottom of their heart, managed to draw some attention from the neighboring apartment dwellers. They were a little loud I admit, but it's CHRISTMAS!
Anyway, I had a pleasant conversation with the Huntington Beach Police Department, and, since we want to be good neighbors, the music ended. 

It is impossible to put into words all that happens on a Laundrylove night. You have to experience it for yourself. Our volunteers are from churches and mosques, yoga studios and the neighborhood.
(The yoga studios, thanks to Shannon, have raised enough money in the last month to cover months of Laundryloves in Huntington Beach!)
 Our guests live on the streets and in cars, and in low income housing and apartments. The music is Gospel and Amy Winehouse. The food is middle eastern and turkey and chocolate cake and Mexican corn. 

If Jesus himself came by he would think, for a moment, that the Kingdom had broken in for 3-4 hours in Huntington Beach. Or Mohammad. Or Budda. They would all come in, grab a bag of quarters or a scoop for soap, join the party, and eat some cake. 

Laundry With A Side of Biryani. And a Dream.

November Laundrylove felt a bit like a festival. All kinds of people. Laundry guests. Volunteers. Social Workers. Twelve Step Program visitors. Musicians. Church people. Mosque people. Yoga people.

Nayyer, Ahmed, a whole group of kind and generous men from the Islamic Center of Orange County showed up with a delicious meal of rice and biryani (Lucknow style): and fruit and breads. Can I brag that Laundrylove HB doesn't order pizza or fried chicken, we eat real meals. It's 'first fruit' food, not leftovers or fast food.

I realized at some point during the evening that I spent almost the entire first 3 hours outside with our homeless and community guests, talking about mathematics, medical care, sleeping between dumpsters, the history of the Navajo people, spicy food, music, and on and on. Thanks to the wonderful volunteers that now show up at Laundrylove, I actually haven't stuffed quarters into washers or dryers for a few months, except when the volunteers dwindle and I return to take their place.
As Shannon likes to say, I'm the goodwill ambassador. I guess so. I just am comfortable now having long conversations with our community about their lives. Or what their lives used to be like. I just listen.
Christian and I always stay till the end, when Gabby and her family arrive to finish cleaning up. We wait until the last guest has folded and packed up. It's actually a good time to catch up with them, because we can focus on them, help them fold or carry laundry to their car or bike, and then finish up with Gabby by taking out the trash, or sweeping up the dog-ends in the alley.

Shannon, who works harder than anyone (at least I say so), is usually exhausted by the time the lights go out, and she and Damian head home.

I worry about El Nino. Those who sleep on the street, or in leaky cars and RVs, will not be comfortable this winter. I know these men and women, I know how uncomfortable they will be.
I dream of the ability to find temporary housing for our guests this winter. It's not like we don't know the character of our long term guests. We have known some of them for over 4 years.

Ted (not his real name) has just had surgery on his detached biceps. He tells us of his surgery, and then his recovery in a motel, provided by Illumination Foundation, for two weeks. As he speaks, a wave of gratefulness comes over me for all that I have.
Instead of finding his place between two dumpsters:
He was able to lock his door for two weeks.
He could take a shower every day.
He had clean sheets.
There were problems with the electrical circuits, a microwave and air conditioner on the same circuit, so, with the permission of the owner, he fixed that.
He cleaned the bathtub of a stain using a broken tree branch as a scrubber.
He convinced the carpet shampooer, who was cleaning the carpet in the next room, that his carpet was dirtier, so the guy cleaned both.
He was able to keep his arm immobilized but do some handyman work for the manager.

He is now back on the street.
He won't get a job soon, because he needs a few months to heal, and his days of a clean shower are now limited.
He does have clean clothes.
He stores his clothes, and tools, and stuff from when he once had a room in a house, in his old car, which is waiting for a smog cert from Sacramento.

I dream of the ability to find temporary housing for our guests this winter.
I know, I just said that,

A social worker from 211 walked the line like an angel, (I don't think people really quite understand that there are real angels walking around) and helped a few guests with information. She may be able to help Tom.

I dream of the ability to find temporary housing for our guests this winter.
I know, I just said that. Again.

The List

I never spent much time in clubs, or in discos, so I really don't know what it's like to be on a 'list', that coveted and protected identification of who can get in and who has to wait; maybe all night. Maybe forever.

There is a list at Laundrylove, but everyone gets in.

When we began, people would ask us "but what if someone comes who is not needy? What if someone clearly is not poor and is just taking advantage of the free laundry?"

Two answers.

The first is, "we don't care". All are welcome.

The second is, because we are in part drawn to this work by our love of God and neighbor, "that is between them and God."

So here we were, on a very hot and muggy September night, ready to spend time in an even hotter and muggier laundromat. There is sometimes a nagging worry- what if no one comes?
As you can see by the list, no worries. After over 4 and a half years of doing this, we can count on a full list.

I don't think that the primary reason our regular folks( who are now most of our guests) come is for the free laundry, or groceries, or hot meal. Or for the new offer of free clothing (shoes, hats, backpacks, dress slacks, shorts....)

(Thanks Rory and Faye for making this a regular part of Laundrylove HB now)

I think our guests come now because it is community, a party, a place to relax and be safe. A place to learn about each other, and maybe to find some spiritual energy. It seems that the 'services' are now secondary (albeit an essential part of LL).

So Tom comes because he needs some laundry done and a new pair of shoes, but what he really needed was to tell someone about a tear in his biceps, so that we could confirm that it was serious, and pray for him as he sought medical advice tomorrow after the Xray results were in.

And Giovanna comes because this is where her kids, Kayla and Jose and Nathan come alive. They help out. Kayla hands out cold water that Steve brings early for the line. And they all color and draw chalk people on the front sidewalk, and when they receive some new clothes from Faye, they respond in gratitude by making a video of thanks to the donor. Giovanna has some time to do laundry, talk to Christian about her life, and relax knowing that for 3 hours her kids are having fun in a safe environment around people who really love them.

Paul comes, tonight more animated and blustery than usual, because he knows the volunteers will be patient with him, and listen to his stories of great conquest and wisdom, at least in his own mind.

A new guest comes with his guitar, and as he serenades the line, seems thankful that it's not just laundry tonight, but love. Steve notices he is playing a song from Tommy by The Who, and since he has been recently working on learning 'Sparks', the instrumental, he asks to demonstrate, and soon he and this new guest are sharing tricks on Pete Townsend guitar power chords.

Other new folks drop by, as always, and ask what is going on. Of course these first timers don't have laundry, but they welcome a bag of groceries, and really welcome a home cooked meal. What a gift to us to introduce the walk-in stranger to the unconditional experience of Laundrylove. No questions asked.

Well, OK, if you are doing laundry there are two questions: What is your first name (who cares if it's real)? And how may loads do you have?

So on this hot night, in the middle of the experience, at about 8 pm, here is what is going on in that moment:

Dinner is served. Chicken with Rice.
Music is blasting. Sounds like David Bowie?
Josh is dancing. His family, all disabled in some form, watches as Josh, like Giovanna's kids, is free to dance and rejoice in a safe place with people who will take him just as he is.
Washers are full. Dryers are nearly full. Volunteers are talking with guests and each other.
Nathan is next door as Kevin the barber gives him a haircut, paid for by Laundrylove.
Faye and Rory are out in the back giving away shoes to Tom and kids clothes to Marie.
Nayyer and Amed are rounding up guests for dinner.
Damian and his girlfriend are out front watching Jose draw body outlines on the sidewalk, but also dodge the squirt gun that Kayla has brought out.
Shannon is choreographing the movement, with Shevawn's help, of guests from the darkness of the alley behind the laundromat to the open washers. It's a complex game of supply and demand.

It looks like a Robert Altman movie. Dozens of scenes happening at the same time.
It sounds like a Charles Ives symphony. A guitar jam juxtaposed against the tunes from the blue tooth speaker sounds of Gen Y music, with a drone of dryer and washer Whooosh Whooosh.

It's a miracle. It may not be water to wine. But it's where world need gets smothered by love and a desire to do a little good for a few hours.

And it all begins with a list.

... and we also help with laundry

Chicken Bowls, Snow Cones, Corn on a Stick, Art Class, Clothes Shopping, Back-to-School Backpacks, Yoga Mats, Haircuts, Groceries...... and Laundry.

In August we had our busiest month ever. We welcomed our regular guests and a few new folks to the Beach Coin Laundry for our usual grocery, hot meal and laundry party. But this month we had a few extras.
In one corner, Barbra, from St George's Episcopal Church in Laguna Hills, set up Art Camp. As you can see, we had kids that were only too happy to create art for their parents. What a blessing to have Barbra there so that the parents can focus on their laundry while their kids are safe and entertained.

Shannon kicked off the night by welcoming volunteers, telling the story of T-Bone, and leading them through the activities and assignments for the night. Here she and Christian confer, as Christian announced that he could take donations via credit card using the dongle on his phone.

Meanwhile, outside in the back alley, guests were about to get their groceries courtesy of Laundrylove. Once a month we go to the Second Harvest Food Bank and purchase groceries so that we can provide our homeless and low-income individuals and families with some food.

After the orientation, and a short reflection from Steve on how grateful we are to have the opportunities to get to know our guests and volunteers and to take some time to give ourselves away, we got down to the business of laundry and love.

As kids are playing and drawing, and washers are loaded, and conversations fire up, and friendships are celebrated, we welcomed our volunteers who were serving the meal for the evening. As it turns out, we had two groups volunteer.
Gabby, our laundromat attendant and dear friend, had asked one of her friends to bring her cart with shaved ice and corn on a stick.
First they offered their own prayer:

Yummmm. The corn on the cob was served with butter, Parmesan cheese, spices and mayonnaise. The shaved ice came in all sorts of flavors and colors.

Teriyaki chicken bowls were supplied by our new friend, Sefo, the owner/sushi chef at Kiku (kikuhb.com) restaurant in H.B. has a program called "Chicken Bowl for the Soul" at his place where customers donate on their check and the restaurant supplies food for an organization like us.

As dinner began, volunteer Connor arrived with a truckload of clothes, shoes, backpacks, socks and more. Connor, who is about to start college at SMU, worked all during high school to gather clothing and distribute them to the less fortunate in Huntington Beach and surroundings. We met him and his mother at the new North Huntington Beach Laundrylove last month. 

And during dinner Nayyer and his son arrived with backpacks with back to school supplies, and we handed them out to the kids (there were lots this time). And Shannon then brought out some donated Yoga mats from her Yoga Studio.

And as always, the volunteers at Laundrylove are there primarily to have conversations with our guests. To find out what is going on in their lives. Where we can help them further. What is not working in the social services that they depend on. What is happening in their families. 
What a humbling grace it is to listen to stories, and at least be able to offer some food and laundry every month.

Thanks to everyone who continues to support Laundrylove Huntington Beach!