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

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