There is a lot more going on at “Laundry Love: Knoxville” than just washing and drying clothes. This new service-oriented non-profit fills a unique niche in our community, offering low-income families and the homeless free clothes washing and drying on the third Thursday of every month.
Laundry Love provides this free service at Blue Water Laundry, 3721 N. Broadway. This past Thursday they welcomed 45 families that washed three loads of clothes each and also fed them a light dinner while they waited for the clothes to wash and dry. There is even a special place for their kids to play.
Two friends who attend Northside Church of Christ in Powell — Garland Pope and Kevin White — came up with this free laundry idea in January 2016. “God led us to do this and God’s hand is involved in this,” Kevin said.
“We were looking for a way to help our community and have something that was not just a church thing, but a community service supported by the community,” Kevin explained to the Rotary Club of Farragut this past Wednesday. “We heard about a Laundry Love in California (Ventura) and looked into it and decided to do it. KARM and others serve the homeless but we wanted to do something for struggling families that are not homeless but who need help. But we also have a few homeless people we help as well.”
Kevin and Garland are the volunteer coordinators of Laundry Love. Kevin is an account executive at Sword and Shield Enterprise Security and Garland is consultant on website development.
“I talked with one homeless man and asked what he needed. He said clean clothes,” Kevin said. “Here’s what else he said — ‘If I had clean clothes people would treat me like I’m a human being.’”
The two friends wasted little time and opened the program in May 2016, first at the Super Wash House on Western Avenue. In January 2018, they relocated to the Blue Water Laundry. Since opening they have provided more than 2,500 laundry loads and 1,400 meals, all on an annual budget of $12,000. Kevin says in an average month they help 54 families with 152 loads and serve 90 meals.
The washing begins at 5:30 p.m., and the last load goes in at 7:30. Volunteers help the families start their loads and also help fold their clothes. Kevin said some people arrive as early as 4 p.m. to get the first washing machines.
And, Laundry Love provides all of the detergent (pods), dryer sheets, bleach, stain remover and fabric softener, plus the food and drinks. “Last year we raised some extra money and bought some mesh laundry bags and put our logo on them and gave one away to each family,” Kevin said. “People bring their dirty clothes in trash bags, rip them, then need new bags. We wanted to give them bags so people could transport them back and forth. We ran out and are going to try and buy another batch to give to new families.”
Some people and families do not have cars, so being close to a bus stop is necessary.
“This is a passion of mine,” Kevin said. “It has, I think, become a great service. The families get to know one another and visit and make new friends and they know that someone cares about them. We build relationships. We listen to them and hear their stories and really get to know them. We are loving on the people we can help and trying to make their worlds and lives a little better.”
Families typically wash all of their clothes plus bedding (sheets and pillow cases). This service saves a family approximately $20. “For many families that’s a lot of money when they can’t afford to have a washer and dryer at home or to fix one that’s broken,” Kevin said.
Last Thursday a group of 10 to 12 eighth-grade students from the Episcopal School of Knoxville volunteered. They helped fold clothes, serve the meal and help keep the kids of the families entertained.
Blue Water Laundry is owned by a Chattanooga couple, Chris and Stacy Jones. They are very supportive of Laundry Love and have personally contributed more than $1,000 over the course of the past several months. “They have welcomed us here and also provide $100 per month for our events,” Kevin said. “One or both of them drive in from Chattanooga and help out with the events as well. We are very fortunate to have their partnership.”
If and when the financials are in solid shape, the two friends would like to open a second location in a different part of town.
They are always looking for volunteers to help. You can visit their website and learn more about Laundry Love: Knoxville and call or email about volunteering. You can also make a donation there and contact them for more information. You can email firstname.lastname@example.org to volunteer.
Laundry Love: Knoxville is also on Facebook.