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Loaves, Fishes, and Laundry

Laundry Love with St. David's, Austin

SpinZone is a locally owned laundromat at the intersection of South Congress and Oltorf, in the Travis Heights neighborhood of Austin, Texas. With the exception of Christmas Day, it is open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. It caters to residents who live in the newer, pricey high rises in the area, as well as to those who call the run down, government-owned housing complexes home. When you walk into the large well-lit space, the first thing you notice is how clean it is. The counters, the floors, and the washers and dryers are always spic and span. Next you notice the cluster of bright yellow round tables in the center of the room, each placed strategically so you can see one of the many (working) flat screen televisions and/or your machine while you wait for your clothes to finish. Finally, you notice the fenced in side yard, complete with picnic tables, a large open area, and a tall, sturdy tree that provides shade for the folks out there to enjoy Austin’s (mostly) amazing weather. Everything about this place screams community, and as such is the perfect place to hold St. David’s monthly Laundry Love gathering.

Laundry Love was started about14 years ago in Ventura, California, and quickly became a national phenomenon. Their mission is simple- to partner with local organizations and laundromats to help low-income individuals and families have the resources to wash their clothes and bedding. What seems like a simple and mindless task for many of us, is often an arduous and sometimes impossible one for others because they simply don’t have access to the funds, supplies, or space needed to do laundry.

When I first heard about Laundry Love I had visceral reaction- what in the world would I have done if I hadn’t been able to wash my daughter’s clothes when she was a baby or toddler? Or her bedding when she was sick? (How many sets of sheets and towels do you go through when a stomach bug hits your house?!) I would have felt powerless, helpless, embarrassed, and afraid. “We have to do this”, I thought. It felt like a vocational calling that if ignored, would mean missing out on a huge opportunity to partner with God in a real and meaningful way. Nobody wants to do that.

In March 2014 we started the St. David’s Laundry Love ministry. For the first couple of years it operated like a “traditional service project,” where the St. David’s folks showed up with all of the goods and services, and the people there to wash their clothes were solely the recipients of said goods and services. This is a hard dynamic to avoid when you are a heavily resourced parish in all the ways we typically think of when we talk about resources. And let’s face it, the giving of these resources makes us feel useful, helpful, and good.

Over time, this iteration of Laundry Love has become less about the St. David’s volunteers acting as the givers and the Laundry Love participants the receivers; we recognize now that we give and receive as we all have gifts and needs. There is a sense that this is no longer something one community does foranother but rather something that communities do together.

This gets manifested in several ways. First, all of the set up and prep work for each part of the evening is done by the Laundry Love participants. From the unloading of the cars to the setting up of supplies; from the prepping of the laundry soap to the dissemination of the crayons and coloring books; from the serving of the pizza to the hanging of the piñata rope on special occasions-I could literally sit in a chair and watch, and everything would come together in the ways it needed to be.

Second, while there is a core group of folks who attend each month, there are always new faces. More often then not, these new people are there because someone who attends regularly told them about it, invited them to come, and offered to meet up with them so they could come together. There is a sense of pride when someone introduces the friend they brought, or when a new person says, “You know Leon, right? He’s my buddy. He’s the one who brought me tonight!”

And third, participants have started contributing things to the communal resources: it might be detergent, little toys for the kids, or cookies they’ve made themselves. Or if someone has more quarters than they need they give them to someone who doesn’t have quite enough. I’ve even seen someone who did need all of their allotted quarters give up a few so the participant who got there late can wash the basic necessities.

This abundance of willingness, this overflowing of generosity, this plethora of unselfish-ness has come to characterize the way we “live” with each other one Thursday night a month. It feels like we experience the loaves and fishes story every time we gather. It may only be for a couple of hours, but God does wonders with our meager offering, transforming it into more than enough for everyone.

Amy Moehnke has worked at St. David’s Episcopal Church in Austin since May 2008. She has overseen a variety of ministries in those ten years, and is currently the Lay Minister for Young Adults and Newcomers.

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