BY BARRY LANK
ECHO PARK — It seems obvious but one of the most useful things you can do for the homeless is help them get their laundry done. And one of the hardest things is to get them into the laundromat.
That’s the challenge facing St. Athanasius Episcopal Church and Echo Park United Methodist Church as they begin their local version of the nationwide Laundry Love program every third Tuesday of the month, starting this Tuesday, April 19.
They’re offering free use of washers and driers for the homeless from 6 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. Or just low-income residents. Or, really, just anyone who shows up and needs it. During the past dozen years, the Laundry Love program has washed 600,000 loads of laundry free of charge and helped more than 450,000 people, according to the organization.
That sounds like a service that sells itself. But James Barnes — owner of Aroma Laundry in the 1400 block of Alvarado Street, where the churches are starting their program — has already had students from Crescenta Valley High School in La Crescenta running a Laundry Love program every third Saturday of the month. It’s been uphill work.
“Some students would drive to encampments by the 101 or Vons,” Barnes said. “But most of the homeless don’t have a way to get here, and they don’t want to leave their stuff. We even had an Uber driver volunteer to drive people to the laundry.” But no takers.
The problem goes beyond the students’ event, according to Nicole Lee, president of the Crescenta Valley High School club.
“Being that [the homeless] only have what’s on their backs, if we outreached a few blocks away, that distance might not be something they are willing to walk,” Lee said. “We did reach out to numerous organizations to direct crowds our way, but they had the same issue.”
So, when asked how the churches plan to get people in the door, Frank M. Alton, the provost at St. Athanasius, responded, “That’s a good question. … We haven’t done it yet. We don’t know how well it’s doing to go.”
At least the second biggest challenge for this kind of project has been solved — finding a laundromat that would participate. Rev. Alton said the churches approached two other businesses before finding Aroma Laundry.
“The others said no,” Alton said. “The two we went to were scared.”
Barnes, by contrast, said he had already been tossing around the idea for this kind of event himself, even before Crescenta Valley High first approached him last summer.
“I feel pretty lucky in my life, and I try to give back where I can,” Barnes said.
For this first event Tuesday, the church will have eight to 10 volunteers at the laundromat, going around paying for the laundry with money cards — though, Alton notes, that’s probably more volunteers than will be needed for this first night of the program.
One challenge has been relatively minor – raising money to pay for the laundry. Fundraising has brought in enough cash for the first couple of months, Alton said. A Korean congregation is already filling in its second big can of quarters for the program.
Still, if you drop by Aroma on Tuesday and have more than enough money for your own washing and drying, donations are welcome, Alton said.
Barry Lank grew up in the San Gabriel Valley, then went away for a seriously long time. He has worked in TV and radio, and currently helps produce The Final Edition Radio Hour.
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