2nd Wednesdays at 7pm Beach Coin Laundry 19072 Beach Bl (x Garfield) Huntington Beach

What if?

Many things about LaundryLove are rewarding.  First, and most obvious, is that people appreciate us.  Nothing fills our hearts more than a gracious "thank you" accompanied by a hug or a warm smile as they walk out of the mat with a bag or basket full of freshly laundered clothes and bedding.  This is the response of most people.  But being homeless changes people, even good people.  For the literary or musical theater types, remember Jean Valjean, a man unjustly imprisoned for twenty years of hard labor for the theft of a loaf of bread to feed his sister's children.  He left prison embittered.  People failed to accept him, recognizing his status as a former prisoner. He was unable to find a job, and his bitterness grows.  Then, in a moment of good fortune, he comes upon a rectory where the nun, in protection of the dignity of the priest, also tries to turn him away.  The priest sees this situation differently, however, and comes out to intervene.  Instead, he welcomes this hungry, friendless man into his home, orders a feast served on the best china and with the finest silver and serves his guest as if he were a dignitary.  Later, asks him to spend the night and prepares a comfortable bed with fresh linens.  But the weary, embittered Jean Valjean is haunted by his past, by former cruelties and, full of rage he gets up in the middle of the night to kill the vicar and steal his silver.  The man is sleeping peacefully so, instead, he goes into the kitchen, loads up the silver, and leaves.  The next morning, the police return with Jean Valjean in tow so that they might return the silver to its rightful owner and the priest rushes from the rectory with silver candlesticks in hand.  "No, officer.  I gave him the silver.  It is his.  But here.  You have forgotten the candlesticks." He extends them to Jean Valjean.  In this moment of grace, something breaks open in Jean Valjean and pieces of the person he was before the cruel treatment emerges.  Sometimes, this happens at LaundryLove and that is the finest reward.  And sometimes, we miss an opportunity.

Usually, it's peaceful at LaundryLove.  There are a lot of people, we already know, some for a very long time.  They feel like friends, family.  Strangers are welcome, even the more difficult ones.  Rarely, we encounter someone who makes it very difficult to help them.  So was our experience with Michelle.

Michelle arrived very close to the time when we were about to begin.  By this time, fifteen or twenty people had already registered ahead of her.  Yet, she took her dirty clothes into the laundromat and started a machine that was already loaded with coins in anticipation of our initial rush.  I suppose it is not hard to imagine how the other 15-20 people felt about this.  Some had been waiting since 2 in the afternoon.  

"She does this all the time!" said one of our regulars, an older woman who lives alone in her car.

Lots of grumbling in the line from people fed up with her antics.  Shannon tried to explain the situation and why she needed to wait, to no avail.  "But I have to leave by 7 to go to church," Michelle explained.

"i'm sorry, but these people have been waiting in line and you have to also."

Michelle continues to load her clothes into the washer.  Shannon takes a breath and walks away.

"You are not a nice person,"  Michelle shouts to her across the laundromat.  "You act like a nice person, but you're not."

I try my reasonable approach with nearly the same response.  She has something to do, so she should be first.  She yells at me, then at Steve and then the decision is made.

Sometimes, we are like the priest, understanding, generous.  But sometimes we are Jean Valjean, who, even after this moment of grace shown to him, he snatches the coins just earned by the happy chimney sweep, and refuses to return them.  Realizing his tremendous error, he cries out for the sweep to return, but the sweep has been frightened by the angry man in filthy rags.  Jean Valjean despairs at his failings.

We let Michelle wash her clothes and dry them too, taking up 4 mid-sized machines and jumping ahead of people who had waited in line for hours.  I told her we would do this one time, but that she needed to not return.  I felt protective of our other guests.  But what would the kindly vicar have done?  Maybe the same, up to a point.  There was a larger group to consider.  But in reflection, the one major thing I failed to do was see her, really see her.  I didn't ask her about herself.  I didn't try to understand, which is different than allowing her to violate others, but it was an opportunity missed on my part.  I've seen how it happens, how people fall into homelessness.  Sometimes, it happens to people via a few bad decisions and a lack of loving support.  Sometimes people never had any hope at all.  Sometimes it's been like that since the beginning and on their own from an early age, they learn to survive.  Oftentimes, they become so difficult and unpleasant that they alienate any possible help and burn all bridges.  

Through the evening, we served a delicious homemade dinner of pulled pork sandwiches and cole slaw.  Michelle ate too.  We handed out groceries and toiletries, of which she also partook.  When she was done, I watched her walk across the parking lot, alone, to her vehicle.  Ordinarily, someone would have helped her with her load, but there was no one left who cared to.  I can still see her as she left.  Her shirt was faded and her pants had buttons on the pockets on the back pockets.  Her skin had the ruddiness of spending a lot of time outside and her hair was knotted and like straw.  When she looked at me, her eyes never met mine.  When I looked at her, I didn't see her.  Sometimes helping isn't easy.

I could have asked these things, but chances are, it wouldn't have mattered, at least in the moment.  Her survival instincts were too strong.  But maybe a tiny crack would have appeared in the heavy wall of protection and pseudo privilege.  Maybe for a moment, she would have known.  I have no control over that.  Only over what I do, how I respond.  I'll do better next time.  But she still won't get a free pass to the head of the line!!

This is it.  This is LaundryLove, where we help the grateful and ungrateful, the appealing and annoying.  We care to the best extent of our best selves in that moment.  We grow.  We are humbled.  We are grateful for it all.

Lights, Camera, Action!

The line stretches around the corner.  Volunteers mill about, the new ones looking eager and confused, the more experienced already jumping in and doing what they can.  A woman with a camera from the Associated Press peers through a view finder, lining up a shot and one of our regular organizers.  He starts talking.  Caught up in the moment, I dodge the filming and direct the guests back to the grocery area where our volunteer give them the instructions, then it's out for the next ones.  Meanwhile, Christian huddles over the back of his SUV, pulling supplies and providing volunteers with name tags.  "Hey, sweetie."  We exchange a quick hug and he pushes a plastic bag filled with the name badges of the regulars.  I drape it around my neck and Shannon says, "Can you take Kem back to the groceries?"  I smile with recognition at one of our wise-cracking, guitar-playing regulars.  "Come on back!"  I hold my arm up so he can follow me, directing him through the chaos.

Three volunteers from the Islamic center of Orange County arrive.  Our eyes meet and smiles, welcomes are exchanged.  My heart fills with warmth for these gentle men who came to help and learn what we do so they can start a similar program in their area.

"Can you find Bonnie and Lisa?" Shannon asks.  "Bonnie?  Our Bonnie?"  She has been absent for a number of months.  "Yeah.  She's back."  Shannon smiles.  Sometimes people disappear for awhile.  Sometimes we don't see them again.  When we do, it's welcoming old friends.  We also breathe a sigh of relief to see that these people who often live very fragile lives, are still ok.

Over the past two and a half years, Gabby, the laundromat manager, and her family have been a part of our community.  Usually, she and her daughters or other helpers come in to clean the laundromat at the end of the night.  Often she slips a few quarters of her own into machines before we begin.  Tonight, she is heading up our meal so we are enjoying Mexican food.  We all look forward to the feast.

We have another wonderful treat this evening.  Sarah, a social worker affiliated with the Illumination Foundation, a nonprofit organization to assist the homeless in Orange County.  She is talking to various guests, gathering and sharing information to help them out.  It is wonderful to have her with us.  This outreach is something we could use every month.

I walk back to find Bonnie and Lisa and run into Vicki, another regular I haven't seen in months.  "Vicki, hi!"  We exchange a quick hug and she runs down the trials of the last couple of months, encounters with an old boyfriend who became violent, but is now in jail.  She doesn't have to worry about him for another month and is happy to be back.  I am also happy to see her.

The groceries are distributed and we're ready to do laundry.  Shannon takes care of announcements.  "Welcome to LaundryLove.  We are happy you are here.  We will be assigning jobs, but the most important thing that we do here is we talk to people, get to know them, let them know they are not alone and we care."  Heads nod and we all know that this is our truth.  Laundry and food are part of it, but most important is the interaction.  We are a community and there is no separation between guest and volunteer.  We learn together and laugh, hug, and cry sometimes.  When people stop being strangers and become part of our family, we do what most of us do for family, which is everything we can to help them get back what has been lost or to make their lives easier.  Volunteers are assigned jobs and we start to bring back people, often hauling 3 or 4 large and shredding bags, filled with laundry,  blankets, clothing, even pillows.

Not all of our guests are "unhoused."  Some are families, working at low-paying jobs or dealing with lay-offs.  One family who kept us entertained through the night consisted of a woman, her children and her husband, who had no concept of an inside voice.  Jose was easy to find at any point since we could hear him above the din of music, machines and conversation.  Mona comes late with lots of laundry, as usual.  As usual, we admonish her and let her in.  "Next time," Christian says.  But we all know, we'll still serve her next time too.

It's 11:30 and the last guests are packed up and walking out the door.  It's been a longer than usual evening.  We say our good-byes.  On the way to my car, I hear someone having difficulty starting her old RV.  Earlier that evening, I'd been invited into her home.  She has a dog, 2 cats, and a parrot that startled me with its loud squawk.  I think that sound might deter a burglar better than her small dog!  The engine struggles to ignite, one time, twice.  I wait a moment to be sure it starts.  After awhile, it coughs to life and she pulls out onto Beach Boulevard.  This is LaundryLove HB.

If you would like to volunteer, please contact us.  If you are inspired to begin one of these in your area, we are happy to help and share our time and experience with you.  If you have money you would like to donate, there is a button on this page.  And, of course, your contributions are tax deductible.

July LaundryLove wrap up

Another Laundrylove with plenty of surprises and blessings this month. When we arrived with our groceries from the Second Harvest Food Bank, there were about 10 guests in line. They began lining up at 2:00. There were quite a few new guests this month. One woman who had been homeless only a week. 

So we first gave out about 40 grocery bags, and then welcomed our volunteers, some new, some old-timers. Matt arrived at about 6 with a truck full of BBQ fixins, and set up to BBQ hamburgers, vegi-burgers and chicken in the parking lot. He brought his two sons, Eli and Vince.

This month we had lots of kids, including Seraphim, a 19-month old, who just loved the wooden helicopter that our friend Rich Vogl of Santa Ana makes for the kids to decorate. Several of the kids got free haircuts from our neighbor, Kevin, who opened up his barber shop last year and joined the LL family.
We've been fortunate to have the empty sidewalk space in front of the Laundromat since we moved in, but now there are restaurants on either side of us. Last night the owner of the restaurant that is immediately next to the laundromat came to visit us. We were apologetic about the line in front of the restaurant (she was closed last night but will be open on future LL evenings). Next month we'll move the line to the back of the laundromat. Not ideal, but we want to be good neighbors.
The restaurant owner (it's Malaysian food) offered to cook a meal for Laundrylove in the coming months. It's good to be a good neighbor.

Overall it was a very busy night, and we didn't get finished until the lights went out at 10:30. So grateful to all the volunteers, and to the community of Laundrylove guests that continue to support us and appreciate what we do. As one of the new guests told me last night, she is so grateful that she can come, do her laundry, and find new friends. 
Finally, Lisa from KCRW, who had interviewed Christian and Steve at the Laundrylove in East Hollywood, came to Huntington Beach to expand her story for NPR. Looking forward to her piece and we'll make sure we link to it when we are notified that it's available.

No sponsor yet for August, so if you want to join in and sponsor a night of Laundrylove, please let us know.

Just Us

They come from all over, bringing bags of laundry, backpacks, smelly socks, dirty blankets.  Some bring broken hearts and fear.  Some bring their feelings of being lost and alone.  Who are they?  Were do they stay?  In the evening, they try to conceal themselves, hunkered down in a van full of all they own, parked out on the edge of Walmart, or behind the Del Taco, hoping that the message of "Do not Disturb" is subtly read by the blocked out windows or the piles of clothes within.  They hope that no one will hurt them in the long night.

A young girl, alone, who earned her degree, worked hard, and was then injured is left disabled, waiting for a call from worker's comp saying her physical therapy is approved.  She sits on a folding chair, crutches beside her, buries her head in her hands and cries.  "Where are you staying?"  "In my car.  My mom says I'm lazy and she doesn't want anything to do with me."  She pauses and tears start afresh.  "I miss my dog.  She's been my rock."  What to do, what to do?  So many needs.  We fill those we can.  We help with laundry, give a bag of groceries, tomatoes, cucumbers, plums, feed them a meal.  I tell her of the safe places I know to sleep, but are any places really that safe?  It's a $100 fine for sleeping in your car in our city.  Services are few.  Needs are great.  We help wash clothes and lend an ear and whatever else we can find.

We gather because we know that, as Fr. G would say, we need to make the circle larger so that those on the edges are included in the middle, because there is no "us and them".  Only us.

Christian, Lupe, Shannon, Mona, Steve, Jackie, Eduardo, Connie, Matt, and everyone else who makes this possible.  Just Us.  LaundryLove HB

In Unexpected Ways

One of our regular volunteers said of our most recent LaundryLove, "This one just blew my mind."  "We had volunteers from Mariners Church, from St John's in Laverne who are wanting to start their own LaundryLove, some folks from other Episcopal churches, and a regular group of men from the Islamic Center of Orange County.  The Islamic Center provided the Middle Eastern meal and lead the prayer.  We didn't start out to be interfaith.  We didn't start out to be any faith, but that's what happened.  The structure just started forming, the web that holds us grows stronger.  When we're there, we don't talk about religion.  It's more of an experience thing, an opportunity to  enjoy one another, to get to know the locals and to allow ourselves to be of service and to be served.


This was one of the busiest nights we have had, with people arriving later than usual, yet, we have not had to turn anyone away.  We do encourage attending early so that our gracious host, Gabby, can clean and go home by 11 in the evening.  We are so grateful for the hearts of the many who come and share themselves, remaining open to whatever happens.

We got a new neighbor a couple of months ago, a barbershop next-door to the laundromat, and even though we can be rather disruptive and take up a fair amount of space, the new owner jumped right in and started offering haircuts to our guests.  Shannon once said, "We see a need and we try to fill that need."  That's the premise and it seems that it happens spontaneously.

When we began LaundryLove, all we did was provide money and laundry supplies so that people who needed a hand could get their laundry done free.  Soon, our services expanded to include a meal, and then groceries became part of the project.  We have made friends, watched fortunes change, have seen people who had been living on the streets for years come in, not to do their laundry for free, but to offer donations and lend a hand.  Sometimes people stumble on us "accidentally" and fortuitously, when a bit of hard luck has come their way and then a bit of grace.

Steve, Christian, and Shannon have been busy helping others get LaundryLove programs started.  Our friends from the Islamic Center plan to start one in Garden Grove.  Thad's, a church in Santa Monica, started a LaundryLove in Venice Beach several months ago and this month, Bishop Bruno attended and ordained Scott Clausen as a Deacon during the project.  You can read about it here
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/05/02/deacon-ordained-in-laundromat_n_5248371.html?utm_hp_ref=fb&src=sp&comm_ref=false



Thanks to all who help in whatever way seems fit.  If you would like to come down and see how we do things, we are at the Laundromat on the corner of Beach Blvd and Garfield, in the same center as the Honey Baked Ham Cafe.  If you would prefer to offer some financial assistance, there is a "Donate" button on this page.  Or if you need to do your laundry, now you know where you can find us.  We would love to see you.


As the Cycle Spins

LaundryLove, March 12, 2014 was yet another great success.  We welcomed back Christian and Shannon from their recent mission trip to Africa and welcomed Steve back from a service trip and conference in the Dominican Republic.  This month, people from Mariner's Church came down to our project to see how we have turned doing the wash into a community event.  They were joyful hands, providing help with everything from quarters to soap to food.  They provided several of the largest pizzas I've yet to see in Huntington Beach along with side dishes and sweets.  In addition, many of our favorite and usual faces showed up to lighten our load.

This month, we also welcomed Shelley and Gisella who came to help sign people up for the ACA and were able to help a couple of people with this and answer Medi-Cal questions.  Thank you so very much to all of our volunteers and their wide-open hearts.

Our guests span a wide range of situations.  A frequent (and prolific) washer comes from Egypt and has brought several of her friends, both Christian and Muslim.  One woman worked as a personal chef until an injury and illness disabled her.  Two older men have found their home among a copse of trees near a freeway ("You can't even see it from the street!"), and a woman new to us this evening who lives in her van.

For me, it is the older and more compromised people who tug at my heart, women and men without a permanent residence.  So many things I barely give thought to become part of the daily struggle for these folks.  One man, too mentally ill to live well with others, stays in his truck with his two dogs.  He became gravely ill with the flu, suffering from both upper respiratory and GI problems.  He had no bathroom to use and no water to drink.  For me, the flu is miserable and inconvenient, but I have a bathroom and bed and water at the ready.  A fever can be brought down with some aspirin or other medicine.  I can lie in bed and shake out the fever and chills.  I don't have to listen to rain pelt the aluminum roof of the camper shell and drip onto my soaked bedding as I burn up with fever.  So here the people who come have people who care about them, who listen, and who also help with laundry.  Sometimes we get to do more and see a little bit of change in someone's life.  In the two and a half years that we've done LaundryLove in HB, we have expanded our regular services to groceries and a meal.  A couple of months ago, a barber moved in next to the laundromat and cuts hair for the guests.

So if you feel like helping us, come on down.  The event is held on the second Wednesday of every month at the laundromat on the corner of Beach and Garfield next to the Honey Baked Ham store.  If you can't come down, but still wish to help, you can tap the donate button on this page and help support us.  No matter what, we thank you all so very much.  Next LaundryLove HB is Wednesday, April 9 at 7 PM.  Hope to see you there!

Perspectives

Old friends and new friends were all a part of the LaundryLove HB experience for the month of February.  Both with volunteers and guests, familiar faces mingled with new.  This month, we were visited by Rev Kellie Grace Kurtz from Pomona and some of her parishioners who are looking to do a LaundryLove in their area.  We also had returnees from the Church of the Messiah in Santa Ana, whose youth group has volunteered several times and is always so very helpful, especially in the earlier part of the evening when we distribute food and need their help very much.  The Muslim men's group from Garden Grove participated as did many of our stalwart, experienced volunteers, for which we are endlessly grateful, since we were missing three essential founders of our program.

Browsing on Facebook the other day, I came across a post from, of all places, Johnny's Saloon.  If you are so inclined, I suggest you stop by this "dive bar" as Johnny calls it.  He was blowing off steam because of a friend of his didn't give homeless people money because they would just spend it on booze or drugs.  He had a surprising amount to say on this subject and was in complete disagreement.  He agreed there were the frauds, but there are frauds everywhere and we give them our money all the time.  His view was of compassion.  He learned it from his dad.  Here's part of what he had to say about that.  There was a lot more. 
 "I remember as a very young kid being scared of a homeless guy in front of us in line at Carls Jr. and the staff saying they would not serve him and trying to kick him out. My Pops spoke up and said "he is with me". The guy bought his food and my Pops gave him a $20."  
He said his dad would always give someone who was asking a 20 and would also stop and talk to him.  His son carried on the tradition, right here in Huntington Beach, and is familiar with many of the people who have no permanent home.  As a teenager, he and his friends made a local street person an honorary member of their garage band.  He knows their faces.  He knows their names.  He was shown by the example of a trusted adult about the value of compassion.  I love seeing the young people at LaundryLove.  It takes away their fear and hesitancy about what to do.  It does that for us adults as well.  In return, we get to meet some remarkable people and are touched and transformed by the simple interaction of caring.

Dr. Stephen Porges, a neuroscientist, studies how relationships work at the physiological level.  He, also, comes from a place of deep compassion.  He says that, "We make the world a better place by making people feel safe."  Ancient wisdom and modern science.  It is agape, the selfless love that says, while you are in my land, we will keep you safe.

Come on down to LaundryLove on March 12.  It is at the corner of Beach and Garfield in the Honey Baked Ham center.  You can do your laundry, help out, or just visit.  If you can't make it but still wish to help, you can make a donation by hitting the "donate" button on this page.  And always, should you decide to come down, while you are in our land, you will be safe.