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

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

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.

Connie Bouvier

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.