Laundry Love brings hope to locals in need
NORWALK — Wednesday was Pamela Porterfield’s 61st birthday.
She had no party planned and, because of a series of unforeseen events, found herself 30 miles southwest of her former home, West Haven, at a laundromat in Norwalk.
“We fell on tough times. We were evicted and we didn’t have family with room for us. I wasn’t working and my daughter wasn’t working,” Porterfield said, as she unloaded her cleaned clothes from a machine at Giant Laundry, on East Avenue.
Along with her two grandchildren, Porterfield left West Haven, where she taught for 25 years, and came to Norwalk 90 days ago seeking a place to live after they lost their home. They found the Open Door Shelter, where she saw postings for Laundry Love.
Laundry Love is a California-based organization that creates partnerships between community groups, schools and laundromats that work to allow homeless individuals to wash their clothes at no charge. Earlier this year, a group of local volunteers and clergy decided to bring the initiative to Connecticut, and started a once-a-month opportunity at Giant Laundry for in-need families and individuals.
“Our former pastor, Martha Klein Larsen, who recently moved on to New Orleans, and Beth Ralston (executive assistant to the rector), had heard about it and got it going,” said Bill Avery, a volunteer at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in New Canaan. “We just sort of talked it up among our parishioners and looked at doing it in New Canaan.”
Avery and the Laundry Love crew at St. Mark’s reached out to other local churches, including St. Luke’s in Darien, St. Paul’s on the Green in Norwalk and Christ Church in Norwalk, and established a network of volunteers. They worked out a deal with Giant Laundry for the first Wednesday of every month, from 3 to 9 p.m., and secured donations from nearby Norwalk Pizza and Jordan’s Pizza to provide food for those doing laundry.
“What we do is we try to get most of our friends from Open Door, but it’s open to anyone in need,” Avery said. “We also worked with the Triangle Community Center, and also Person-to-Person in Norwalk and Darien.”
Interest in Laundry Love has grown steadily since the first event in February.
“The first few months it was very slow,” said Irene Tsikitas, director of programs and services at Norwalk’s Triangle Community Center, who was overseeing the shift of volunteers on Wednesday. “In the last six months it’s grown. At the last one we had about 30 people.”
Within the first hour on Wednesday, 17 people had checked in with Tsikitas at Giant Laundry. The first few hours, Tsikitas said, are the busiest, because most shelters have 8 p.m. curfews.
Some who came to wash their clothes stayed alone near their machines. Others were aided by volunteers. And some ate pizza and socialized while their clothes cycled through the wash.
Forging connections and instilling confidence are two crucially important aspects of Laundry Love, according to Open Door Executive Director Jeannette Arche-Simons.
“When you have a limited income, you have to make choices. How often you can wash your clothes really drives how clean you can feel,” Archer-Simons said. “When you get up in the morning, if you can put on clean underwear and clean clothes, you’re more likely to go out and find housing and look for a job. It gives a sense of pride.”
Dennis Labertrandie has been at Open Door since April and was mid-cycle.
“It’s free, they supply you with detergent and the staff is very helpful,” Labertrandie said as he waited for his clothes.
Nearby, Jeffrey Chanholm was loading up a machine. His sister had told him about Laundry Love and suggested he go.
“It’s good because right now I’m only working one job and I’m also paying child support for my kids,” Chanholm said. “Any way you can save money is great. I really appreciate them doing this.”
Despite her hardships, Porterfield, too, expressed her gratitude.
“I’m happy to be alive and not on the street,” Porterfield said. “It’s been difficult but like I tell my kids, ‘You just keep it moving.’”
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