Angell wanted to begin offering free laundry service one night a month — a basic that can sometimes be out-of-reach financially for a family struggling to get by. As a Christian, the idea struck Sadl as the right fit for the business he has run across from Heman Park since 1981. “Following Jesus means following Jesus out into the neighborhood,” Angell said. Otherwise, it is hard to know what kind of help people need, he said. A laundromat provides a captive audience, customers flipping through magazines or staring at their phones waiting for washers and dryers to run their cycles.
“We have the gift of time. Why not engage people?” Angell said. “What if we turned doing laundry into something you looked forward to?”Tapping into a national model, Laundry of Love was introduced this summer in University City. “We’re not here to proselytize or evangelize,” Angell said. “We have wanted to make a bigger footprint in the neighborhood and our folks get to know our neighborhood.”
One evening last month, the parking lot of the Classic Coin was filled to capacity. Trunks popped open, exposing heaping baskets and bulging bags of laundry. Children helped their moms carry the mounds into the laundromat, where they were met with church volunteers. Customers were asked to sign in and include their ZIP code, number of loads of laundry and how they found out about the service. They were given quarters, laundry detergent and fabric softener. Kenna Sutton, 43, stood near one of six washing machines with her sudsy belongings inside. She has a washer at home, but a broken dryer. With six boys and a husband, dirty laundry is a perpetual condition. “This is a big help for me,” Sutton said. Not only can she get a large amount of laundry done at one time, it’s also a significant cost savings. Jessica Jones said it can cost her family $80 a month to do laundry. With those funds freed up, “you can use the money for buying groceries, gas for the car, taking the kids out for ice cream.”Jones, 30, an early childhood educator, said churches often seem to be the ones with their hands out, “asking for tithing and offerings.” “This shows humanity,” she said, looking around the crowded room.
The idea of a congregation taking over a laundromat has been around about a dozen years, beginning in Venice, Calif. It started as a way to help the homeless, who seldom have access to clean clothes, but through the years expanded to help anyone who needs it. It has grown to at least 100 laundromats across the country, according to Laundry of Love, a nonprofit that took the idea from an act of kindness to a national movement. Although Episcopalian congregations are the primary operators, synagogues and mosques also have started similar programs.
The program run by Holy Communion is one of the newer ones. The congregation held its first free laundry night in July. Last month, through word of mouth and fliers posted at the library, community center, groceries and food pantries, the amount spent on providing the laundry service was five times higher, Angell said.
Paul Jokerst helped start a Laundry of Love program in St. Charles County two years ago, thanks to a speech he heard Angell give in 2014 at the annual conference of the Episcopal Diocese of Missouri .
Jokerst, who was a St. Charles police officer at the time, took the laundry program idea back to his congregation at Transfiguration Episcopal Church in Lake Saint Louis, which partnered with Trinity Episcopal Church in St. Charles. Their first laundromat adoption was two years ago in St. Charles; two months ago, the congregations added a Wentzville location. “ If you make the gesture that you are there to help without being a sales rep for the church, it goes farther in today’s world,” said Jokerst, who is serving as police chief of Paola, Kan., while finishing up his schooling to become an Episcopalian deacon.
Currently St. Paul’s offers a neighborhood BBQ every other Friday evening throughout the summer. This ministry of St. Paul’s attracts many neighborhood people including young teens. What if we looked into Laundry of Love? Do you have one free night a month? In the article Fr. Angell said that churches are supposed to be a blessing to their neighborhood. Are you willing to be present at a neighborhood Laundromat for a few hours one night? Are you willing to engage others in conversation? Remember, this is not about evangelizing; rather it is about being a neighbor. Something to pray about, think about, and converse about – Jesus always calls out of our “comfort zone” to be a presence to others.
“Following Jesus means following Jesus out into the neighborhood.”
~ Fr. Al Jewson