Rotarians find joy in service

Tom KingFarragut, Feature, Inside 640

Load after load went into the washers and load after load had to be dried. Then the clothes, sheets and whatever else had to be folded and shirts and slacks put on hangers.

But, there was a whole lot more going on at Laundry Love: Knoxville’s Third Thursday evening on Aug. 16.

It was people making new friends, people saying hello to old friends, people listening to stories and sharing, people hugging people, and people who made one another happy by just being together. Kids played games. And enjoyed the hot dogs along with everyone else.

Farragut Rotarians Adam Brock, the Rev. David Bluford, Jim O’Brien, Julia Blaylock and her mother, Agnes Predny, load up with supplies for the washing machines.

Two buddies, Kevin White and Garland Pope, are the founders of this monthly event at the neighborhood Bluewater Laundry at 3721 N. Broadway. Last week 58 families registered for this completely free service. From 5-9 p.m. the laundry was packed. People unloaded cars. Some walked from their homes, pushing carts filled with bags of clothes and bedding. A few got off the city bus with bags and carts loaded down.

A team of 10 from the Rotary Club of Farragut was there to help the families with their laundry and serve up the hot dog meal with trimmings and a drink. I was one of the 10 volunteers. It was night that will never be forgotten.

Kevin and Garland have it down to a science. The evening hums along like a well-oiled machine. People register and sign in. First come, first served. Each load of clothes is weighed to determine which size washer is needed. And everything is free, including the meal, the detergent pods, the fabric softener and anything else that’s needed. They do this on the Third Thursday of every month.

Here’s how the numbers added up last Thursday:

— 56 families were helped.

— 158 loads were washed and dried.

— 120 meals were served.

— There were too many smiles and hugs to count.

I had the best job. I took pictures and walked around and talked to people, proud people, some down on their luck, some recovering from addictions, some out of work for varying reasons, some living life on a disability check and not much more. People trying to survive. People who deserve our compassion. A young single mother with three young kids. A couple working to kick their meth habits who washed their clothes and then stayed around to help others. They live under a bridge nearby.

I asked many what this night meant to them. Here are a few of their answers:

  • “This saves me about $25 or $30 a month and for me, that’s a lot of money for groceries and the buses,” she said.
  • “Well, I gotta get my clothes washed and this is fun. I see some friends I have made here and we have a good time, plus the hot dogs are really good,” a middle-aged man said.
  • A short elderly woman with two grandchildren looked at me. She didn’t say a word when she heard my question. The tears and her quivering lips said it all. Then she gave me a long hug.
  • A man in his 60s thanked me. “This is a big deal for us. No one here has any money. A lot of us don’t have a car. We don’t have a washer or dryer in our little place. This means more than you know.”

A non-Rotary volunteer who comes every month is Jeanne Gilmartin, a nurse at TeamHealth. She walks in the door with the dessert for the meal – dozens of wonderful soft brownies that she bakes in her oven. Once she drops off the brownies, she ties on an apron and helps with the washing.

As we left Thursday night, there was Jeanne sweeping up the place. “Why do I do this?” she repeated the question. “It gives me joy, and I mean real joy. I heard about this on Facebook and I’m just a small part of it all, helping people who need our help.”

If you’d like to volunteer to help, you can click here to visit their website to donate or send them a message:

You also could email Kevin White if you or your group is interested in volunteering. His email address is:

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