GREEN BAY — Michele Whittington stood in line with a large mound of clothing, bedding and towels, waiting for her turn at Corner Coin Laundry, 433 N. Irwin Ave., on Tuesday morning, Dec. 10, to have her dirty laundry weighed.
That day, she was looking forward to a new beginning: clean clothes would be coming home with her, thanks to the nonprofit Laundry Love Green Bay, which provides free laundry services to people in need two times a month.
Whittington had unexpectedly lost her job before Thanksgiving, and both she and her son had been hit with an intestinal virus. She had been washing their clothes in the bathtub. “This means I am going to have clean clothing,” she said of Laundry Love Green Bay, which she has donated to in the past. “I literally sent my son to school in clothes (today) that I reserve for the playground. They have holes in them,” she said.
Clean clothing is a basic human need, and Laundry Love Green Bay offers free laundry services the second Tuesday of the month at Corner Coin Laundry-East from 11 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. and the fourth Friday of the month at Corner Coin Laundry-West, 404 Mather St., from 6:30 to 9 p.m.
The story of Laundry Love began 12 years ago, according to the laundry love.org website, with T-Bone (Eric), a homeless gentleman living in Ventura Calif.
In one particular conversation, a question was asked of him: “T-Bone, how can we come alongside your life in a way that would matter?” His response was honest and practical: “If I had clean clothes I think people would treat me like a human being.”
It was Natashia Atkinson, director of Laundry Love Green Bay, along with her mother, Jean Stefanek, who brought the program here.
“My mom and I have always been helpers. It’s a trait I feel we watched my grandmother (Yvonne Lemerond) display throughout our lifetime,” Atkinson said. Lemerond, a member of St. John the Baptist Parish in Howard, also volunteers with Laundry Love Green Bay. “Helping is just something that makes our hearts happy. It brings us the opportunity to love those around us, build relationships and do our small part to let others know that there are people out there who care.”
“We had been looking for ideas and opportunities,” Atkinson continued, “and while we came across a lot of ideas, we hadn’t found any that were right. We did not want to reinvent any wheels, nor did we want to take away from anything that other nonprofits in the area might be doing. One day, Laundry Love national popped up on good old Facebook. There it was, our opportunity.”
Here’s how it works.
Laundry Love Green Bay (see laundrylovegreenbay.org) advertises its events on social media and places posters where they feel those most in need will see them.
“We serve homeless neighbors, elderly neighbors, families, single mothers and fathers, youth, individuals, and those who just may need a hand through a difficult time,” said Atkinson.
There is a check-in process and then they head to the washers where a volunteer loads the coins and detergent. Individuals are allowed two loads of laundry, families can wash five loads.
Also partnering with them at the events is UnitedHealthcare, which provides information on health care and insurance, and there is always a meal, sometimes the only meal some of these neighbors will have that day. On Dec. 10 the meal, which included hot turkey sandwiches, was provided by the Lorelei Inn in Green Bay. The laundromats are owned by Bart and Meagan Colombo, who are also co-owners of the Lorelei Inn along with Meagan’s parents.
It was Atkinson who approached the Colombos about partnering with Laundry Love Green Bay. Since then, the Colombos have participated in some of their fundraisers and they donate back 10 percent of what is spent at each event to Laundry Love Green Bay. Plus they also store donated detergent and dryer sheets at the laundromats. Donors generously supply quarters and Laundry Love Green Bay takes collections at various businesses.
Lynne Stahl, co-owner of the Lorelei Inn, volunteered to help serve lunch on Dec. 10. A member of St. Mary Parish in Luxemburg, she talked about how important clean clothes are to someone’s well-being as well as “how you feel about yourself.”
“Need knows no season,” said Chris Stefanek, Atkinson’s father, who was also volunteering. “It doesn’t matter if it’s July or December or January… It’s year-round.”
Atkinson said Laundry Love Green Bay would like to expand into the Fox Valley and Manitowoc, and would welcome interested persons to contact them about those possibilities. In January they are expanding into doing laundry for older adults through their new Elder Love program, and in February and August they will provide free haircuts at a partnering salon.
Byron Lewis Jr. was at the Dec. 10 event, not only laundering his own clothes, but those of his niece and her two children. They live together as a family and, he said, “I appreciate what they’re doing here,” explaining how the cost of doing laundry impacts an already strained budget. With the help of Laundry Love Green Bay, “They (families) have a little extra money for the holidays,” said Lewis.