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

Turning the Tide

"Tonight I get to sleep in a clean sleeping bag in my car.  You have no idea what that means to me."  The woman reached out and hugged me, just one of the many "thank-you's" of the evening.

Another one said, "It can only go up from here, right?"  His red eyes and creased brow provided a window into his distress.  I think he expected me to leave.  I stood next to the washer and waited.  "I just got evicted from my storage facility.  It's the third one.  They don't want the homeless there.  I think I'm just going to take all of my stuff and sell it at the swap meet."  This is frequently how the story goes.  It starts with a streak of bad luck or bad decisions and one failure leads to another, taking with it more and more of their self-esteem.  Pretty soon people start seeing themselves the way other people see them, unwanted and without value.  He swallowed hard.  "Thanks for listening.  And thanks for this.  You don't now how much it helps."

Paul, one of our regulars, the one with the fanciful backpack, stuffs laundry in a machine in his usual abrupt way.  One month he came and got into a fight with someone and left.  The next month, he came back and apologized.  He's been a model LaundryLove citizen since.  "You guys do a good thing here," he told me.  "Thank you so much."  And there you have it.  Those little moments of love among the laundry.

In our introduction, we warn our volunteers to not leave their bag of quarters lying around.  Between you and me, I've done it.  Every time, it is where I left it or it's been returned by a guest.  I still don't advise it because I think I've partially been lucky.  But it's also how things are between friends.  There's mutual respect.  We know one another.

In my everyday life, I'm a psychologist.  I've seen lots of hurting people and I've been privileged to watch them get better.  I'm convinced that it's not just my amazing skill that facilitates the process.  What I have seen more than anything is that it is infinitely more healing to listen and care.  Without that, people could have read the latest self help book and gotten better on their own.  It's like that at LaundryLove.  We could stand on a corner, offering money for groceries, a meal, and laundry.  We could do that and never know their face or their stories.  They would probably not remember ours.  But these people, we know them.  They are our friends.  They are ours and we theirs.

This past month, a camper that had been parked in the WalMart parking lot caught fire.  Someone drove it to a spot where it wouldn't harm anyone else.  A woman inside of it died.  I asked Shannon if she knew if the woman was one of ours.  "Yes, by association."  I guess the truth is they are all "one of ours."

If you want to join us, come on down.  Second Wednesday of every month at the Laundromat on the corner of Beach and Garfield in Huntington Beach, right next to the Honey Baked Ham store.  There's food and music and fun and laundry.  Lots of laundry.  If you would like to donate, the donate button is on this page or bring something with you.  We are entirely volunteer run and need all the help we can get.  Get to know the family.  There will be faces and stories you remember for a long time.

A Happy Mess

Our group can get a little messy, not messy like we don't clean up after ourselves, but busy with people.  By 6 PM on the evening of LaundryLove HB, a line circles the building.  We start distributing groceries to those in line, who come in one at a time and partake of the supplies from the Second Harvest Food Bank.  Sometimes we get lucky on the fresh produce and sometimes less so.  There are a lot of vehicles in the parking lot also.  We try to be good neighbors and most people support us, but sometime the local restaurants get a little nervous about the size of the crowd and fearful they might drive away customers, so this month, we ordered food from the nearby (next door) Malaysian restaurant and it smelled delicious.  General report from those who dined verified that the taste was equal to the aroma.

We at LaundryLove look forward to the 2nd Wednesday of the month, when our "family" gathers to catch up with one another, do laundry, pick up some extra food, share a meal and get a haircut.  We like to include the neighbors whenever we can.  Thai Gulf has always been very open and supportive of our endeavors and the barber next-door offers haircuts at a discount for LaundryLove.  It's a community effort.

This week we were missing one of our primary organizers and voice of the operation, Shannon Kassoff.  Instead, I took over her position.  It was a busy night and most of it went by in quite a blur.  I'd become so accustomed to dashing about and answering questions that when I heard someone say something, I responded as if they were asking a question.  I was greeted by a big smile.  "I was saying, 'hi,'" he said.  I laughed.  I almost forgot that this is the most important part of LaundryLove, the people, the friends we make, the feeling of care and comradery we experience with one another.  It's not a job.  It's a relationship.  I'd forgotten for a moment, so I stopped and talked.

We gather at the corner of Beach Blvd and Garfield, at the laundromat next to the Honey Baked Ham Cafe.  We are run entirely by volunteers and appreciate all and any donations.  There is a donate button on this page.  We also welcome any volunteers.  That is our main objective, not only to help people wash their clothes, but also to get to know them, to allow them to get to know us.  Not long ago someone asked Shannon if he could do anything for us, wash our cars or something.  She said we had what we needed.  He said, "That's the problem with these programs.  There's never a way to give back."  It set us all to thinking.  This last month, I had the privilege of joining a mission trip to Nicaragua.  While in a remote village, one of the women offered to wash clothes for us, which she did.  Being a servant means allowing others to serve also. Here is a picture of LaundryLove Cumaica Norte Nicaragua.

The Dignity of Being Known

We are entered our fourth year of LaundryLove this month!  Hard to believe.  We celebrated with a dinner at St. Wilfrid's parish hall on Sunday, January 18th.  All love and food and no laundry.  Just an opportunity to fellowship with volunteers, guests, and anyone else who might be interested in our program and peeps.

During our three years, we have come to know many members of the community we may not have known otherwise.  One of these people is Vicki, who celebrated her birthday with us on her birthday on January 14th.  Happy Birthday, Vicki!  We've had the good fortune to celebrate several peoples' birthdays with us since we began in January of 2012.

One thing we have fortunately avoided until now has been the permanent loss of one of our guests.  Five days before LaundryLove in January, one of our regular attendees lost her life after having been hit by a car on Beach Blvd in Huntington Beach, just down the street from our project.  The driver stayed at the scene, but our friend, Cheryl, died instantly on impact.  We received this news from her brother, another LaundryLove guest.  We grieve the loss of someone we have come to know and care about and who had become a member of our family.  This is a link to a brief article about the incident. http://www.ocregister.com/articles/street-647832-struck-pierce.html  Rest in peace, dear Cheryl.

Our program is simple and well-received.  One night a month, a slow night for the laundromat, we take over that laundromat and provide quarters, soap, dryer sheets, fellowship, music, groceries, and a hot meal for anyone needing an opportunity to do their laundry for free!  The idea started about a decade ago by a group in Ventura who wanted to do something to help people struggling with homelessness to make their lives easier and to show them they cared.  They asked a man what would help him.  His response, he thought that people would treat him like a person if he had clean clothes.  Moved by his plight, they began what has become a national movement.  We are grateful for their idea and we have copied it with gratitude.

We are completely run by volunteers and via donations.  Should you want to contribute to our cause, you may use the "donate" button on this page.  If you wish to join us, please come on down.  Next LaundryLove is on Tuesday, February 11 at the laundromat on the corner of Beach Blvd and Garfield Avenue in Huntington Beach, right next to the Honey Baked Ham store.  Spread a little love.  Do a little laundry.  We would love to see you!

Holidays at LaundryLove HB

Happy Christmas to our wonderful friends, supporters, and all of you we have yet to meet.  Every second Wednesday, the laundromat at the corner of Beach and Garfield in Huntington Beach turns into a party, with bags of food free for the taking, a haircut for those who need one, and a home cooked dinner served.  We have music, do laundry, and share the fun with lots of guests.  This month we were able to provide yet another service to the usual treats.  For Christmas, we were able to provide each patron with a gift card to a discount store to help with their holiday purchases.

It has become a tradition for the teachers and families from St Wilfrid's Preschool to cook and serve the traditional Christmas meal and this year, the youth group also got involved, plating the faire and getting to know our guests and crew.  Our family is ever expanding and we love seeing them every month, and sometimes in between, as most of us live locally.

Running back and forth between guests and machines sometimes the night becomes a blur of familiar faces of many people I've come to know and love and new friends as well.  This month, I was struck how guest after guest brought in bags of clothes that had been soaked by the recent rains and smelled of mildew.  "There's no shelter at the park," explained one.  Really, no shelter at all.  In two short days, it was supposed to rain again.

As a teenager, I worked at a coffee shop in downtown Milwaukee, where many homeless and lonely people came to sit at our counter and have a hot cup of coffee.  Meg never charged them.  They were a different lot,  one lanky black man would stand up in the middle of the restaurant, preaching the word of God, another lonely older woman, the pink lady we called her cause that's how she dressed, came in and ordered two dinners and chatted with her imaginary guest.  An old Greek man, small and fail, would take my arm and, with a shaky hand point to me and say, "Blondie, you are my favorite girlfriend."  He always made me smile with his mischievous ways and crinkle eyed smile.  I learned later that he slept on the bus, which ran all night and took about an hour and a half to complete its route.  No shelter in the park or in the city.

It's a little better here, even though right now it's growing cold, by Southern California standards.  Tomorrow it's set to rain again. At home at night, when it starts to rain,  I open my windows to listen and crawl back  to bed, between my down comforter and flannel sheets.  I have shelter.  And I am grateful for that.

The nights at LaundryLove have grown longer.  We are finding ourselves having to limit loads, something we didn't have to do for the first couple of years.  People arrive earlier and earlier, assuming a place in line as early as 12:30 in the afternoon for a start time of 7 or so.  Families, singles, women, men, the angry, the hopeless, and the grateful cue up and they get to do their laundry and we get to know love.

This is how LuandryLove works.  We take over a laundromat one time a month, provide soap, quarters, and fabric softener sheets and the other services I already talked about.  People who need the help come and do their laundry.  They don't need to listen to a sermon.  We don't ask them to verify need.  Being poor is bad enough without adding that humiliation.  And if by chance someone is rich and wants to wait 6 hours in line to do their laundry, that's ok.  They too are served.  There is a "Donate" button on this page.  We are a local group completely volunteer, so if you would like to help us and all of our friends who need to do laundry, please consider a donation.  We really appreciate it.  These donations have allowed us to increase our services to what we have today.  You are also welcome to come down and join us at any time.  We would love to see you.  The best of the holidays to all.

Wow! Biggest Month Ever!

November was a true banner month for LaundryLove HB.  We started our project by simply providing the means and space for people to do their laundry, and it has expanded to include a hot meal, grocery distribution, haircuts, and toys.  This month, we added entertainment for kids by guest volunteer, Larry Budner who is a child psychiatrist.  He sat with a group of little ones and kept them entertained so their parents could attend to either waiting in the extremely long line, or getting the wash done.  Thank, Larry!  How easily and well you slipped into the spirit of it all.

We had many return volunteers, and this was a month we needed "all hands on deck."  We have yet to turn anyone away from LL, but the time may have come when we need to limit the number of loads people are able to complete.  This makes us sad, since we all love saying "yes" to people, but we may no longer be able to accommodate the need.

One of our friends, Paul, brought his "home" with him, a backpack decorated with a stuffed opossum and flamingo.  I think of how we all do this, decorate our homes to personalize them, make them ours.  He stood next to his backpack and allowed me to snap a photo of him.

It's kind of funny to me, after all this time, how people refer to "The Homeless," as if they were a homogenous group instead of a bunch of individuals, out on the street for various reasons.  The accommodations these folks do in order to make their lives livable while maintaining a level of dignity are astounding.  I've known people who carry a menagerie in their donated motor homes, including dogs, cats, and even a parrot (very loud).  One woman hung a surfboard on the inside wall of her van, both for use and for decoration.  Still others, as one elderly and ill woman I met at our first Christmas celebration, spend the night huddled in the driver' seat of their old cars, surrounded by all they've been able to salvage from their former lives.  "I used to live in a big house on Magnolia and Yorktown," she told me.  One man told me about his "compound", a copse of trees beside the freeway.  "You can't even see it from the street!"

The weather grows cold and many of us celebrate this after a brutally hot September, but for some, the colder weather is less welcome.  One man came to LL this week with nothing but the clothes on his back.  He was just released from jail early (really early) that morning.  He wondered if anyone had donated a sleeping bag.  He knew he'd be sleeping outside since there was nowhere else to go.  He displayed his AA marble proudly.  "I've been sober all day."  AA gives newcomers a marble each day, advising them to, "Not lose your marbles."

Where will you sleep tonight?  Where do you do your laundry?  If you are lucky, like me, you have an easy and comfortable answer to this question.  A life without these things may be unknown.  People that cross your path, slouched and dirty, may make you uncomfortable.  One thing I seldom feel at LL is uncomfortable.  I feel touched, inspired, broken-hearted, and awestruck at how our friends manage these great burdens.

A woman, Erin Earl, I met via Facebook found herself homeless after 20 years of marriage.  Things are much better for her now, but she hasn't forgotten what that was like.  She hosts an annual Turkey Bash held, this year, at Valley View Lanes in Garden Grove.  You may follow her on Facebook.  Here is a video of her story.  https://soundcloud.com/garrett-calcaterra/story-of-the-turkey-bash
I'm sure she'd love any help you might offer.

As for us, next month, in addition to a meal, groceries, haircuts, and laundry, we will be offering gift cards.  There is a "donate" button on this website.  If you would like to help us out with this, we would really appreciate it.  It costs about $500 to run a regular night so all and any donations are appreciated.  If you would like to come and meet some of our friends, we will be at the laundromat at the corner of Beach and Garfield, next to the Honey Baked Ham store on the second Wednesday of December, the tenth.  We'd love to see you.  And if hard times have befallen you, bring your laundry, and arrive early!

Connie Bouvier

What Your Donation Buys

 We appreciate all donations.  If you would like to know how your money is used, here is a breakdown.  On an ordinary night, we spend about $500.  Thanks for your help.  You can donate a set amount, or provide the cost of one or more of these items.

Box of Laundry Detergent:  18.00

Box of Fabric Softener Sheets:  4.50

Single Load of Wash:  1.50

Double Load of Wash:  2.50

Triple load of Wash:  3.00

Quadruple Load of Wash:  4.00

Six Loads of Wash:  5.00

Haircuts:  7.00 + tip

Average Meal Cost:  125.00

All donations are completely tax deductible and all are greatly appreciated.

Our Website:  LaundryLoveHB.com

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 grew.  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 back pockets.  Her skin had the ruddiness of spending a lot of time outside and her hair was knotted and straw like.  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.

Connie Bouvier