It's 7 p.m. on a Tuesday night on Fourth Street and people have been lined up since 2 p.m. outside a laundromat here. They've been waiting for a chance to do their wash — for free.
Thirty or so people crowd inside, and soon they are busily folding work shirts, towels, baby clothes and bed sheets, and transferring their items in and out of the washers and dryers, making sure every machine is actively churning. The room smells of fresh linens, and the cool breeze from the open doors is a welcome relief from the warmth from the dryers.
Children are giggling as they play peekaboo as sheets are being folded, people are sharing rolling baskets as they help one another move loads from washers to dryers. Volunteers are feeding machines with quarters.
This is "Laundry Love" at work — hosted by The Garden, a non-denominational church based in Long Beach whose vision is “In Long Beach as it is in Heaven.” Each week, a group of local volunteers provide free laundry services to homeless and low-income families in the area, offering what may be their only way to get clean clothes.
Volunteer Megan Kerr said, "This is our weekly opportunity to practice Garden’s vision. Connecting with my neighbors is important to me. I see these folks around the neighborhood — but here we have a chance to get to know one another."
Kerr and her fellow volunteers say they are glad they can support a local business in the process.
“Our first week here, the laundromat owner helped us get started with a few rolls of quarters,” she said.
According to Lizet Lecona, who works in the small laundromat, Tuesday nights are now the busiest time of the week. Even the large capacity $5 per load washers are in constant use.
In addition, the volunteers treat everyone to pizza and sodas from a nearby business. Kerr explained, “It is important to us to support neighborhood businesses.”
The volunteers provide an informal match of their skills with the community’s needs — the group has provided homework help and led children’s games in the past. They have helped neighbors with job interviews — where clean clothes and a little coaching goes a long way.
The Laundromat is representative of Long Beach with its different cultures, ages, and situations. But no explanations are required here. Just the desire for clean clothes.
Laundry is a daunting chore for many people, but for the working poor, the cost of doing laundry can mean going without other basic essentials.
For Nancy Maradiaga, Laundry Love has become a necessity. With an extended family that includes her brother, she has lots of laundry — and she was recently laid off from her job and has eight school age children at home.
“Once school starts, there will be more loads with all their uniforms,” she says as she doesn’t miss a beat in her folding routine. “I get all my laundry done here in one night.”
Joyce Wang, one of the Laundry Love organizers who rarely misses a Tuesday night on Fourth Street near Temple Avenue, says it's about more than just free laundry. She said she signed up to help because she longed to connect with her community and she continues because of the deep connection she makes. Wang lives in Signal Hill and works in Orange.
"It is probably the best way to be involved in other people's lives, and I look forward to Tuesday nights,” Wang says.
Laundry Love Long Beach is an outgrowth of the national Laundry Love movement. It originated in Ventura when a small group of residents started brainstorming about how to become more active in the community. Food and shelter are basic needs, but clean clothes can mean a renewed level of self-respect.
While clean clothes won’t solve every problem, it is certainly a good start, Long Beach's volunteers say. To get involved, go to www.garden.church/laundry-love.