Jackie James used to serve up drinks at the bar, but not anymore. Now she serves up something much more positive: love and compassion. In the form of free laundry washes. Plus a stiff chaser about following the rules.
It’s very much the same skill set, James said: a gift for gab. A feeling of friendliness and caring. And no reluctance whatsoever about calling people on their crap.
“I found my passion. It’s the same passion as before. It’s being with people. We have a good time here,” the energetic volunteer said. For James, the best part is that it’s no longer about taking people’s money in return for getting them drunk.
“It’s all about the heart now,” she said. “It has nothing to do with money, and I love it. Money is evil-evil-evil. This takes people’s problems away.”
This is Laundry Love, a little laundromat at 2101 St. Johns Blvd. in the Rose Village neighborhood, which offers free service every Thursday night — sponsored by the business itself and by local churches Mosaic Vancouver, Real Life Christian Center and City Harvest. Laundry Love is just around the corner from the complex that used to be Courtyard Village Apartments, a downscale and deteriorating place that was purchased by a new, absentee owner in 2014. That new owner did some renovations and raised rents last year — and nearly all the residents were priced out and had to flee.
Shannon Johnson, 55, became homeless when she left Courtyard Village. Now she’s back in the neighborhood, she said, and appreciating what Laundry Love does for her. Her current rental has a dryer but the washer is busted, she said. Plus, she said, “It’s good fellowship here. It’s like a family.”
Kenny Haynes, 38, is living outdoors nearby, he said. He said he comes by Laundry Love daily to help clean up and even sometimes to update its Internet presence. “It’s a nice little program,” he said. “They really go out of their way to help the community.”
The Laundry Love facility is owned by Steve Harkless, a Portland businessman who also owns the Everyday Deals grocery chain, including the store next door (formerly the St. Johns IGA at 2109 St. Johns Blvd.). Harkless told The Columbian he bought the Laundry Love property because it was there at the edge of his parking lot and seemed a natural fit.
“It helps a lot of people. That’s the main idea behind it,” he said. “It’s run by a real charitable guy.”
That’s Jason Snyder. But Snyder and his family have been focused this year on helping a friend’s family recover in the wake of a terrible car wreck, he said; meanwhile, it’s Laundry Love’s volunteers, especially James herself, who have taken the lead — so people with little can keep doing their laundry for nothing.
The woman relented. How hard is it to sign up for two loads, not one, and wait just a little longer for both of your turns?
While you’re waiting, there’s free coffee. Sometimes there are clothing donations. People arrive by car, bike, bike-plus-makeshift-trailer and on foot. In late April, there were easily 20 people already hanging out at Laundry Love when The Columbian arrived, well before free service started for the evening.
Carmen Wolf, 53, has serious laundry needs because she makes a living doing child care; young children are frequently messing up her clothes, she said. She lives in a nearby apartment and worries about her landlord hiking the rents and tossing everybody out in a repeat of the Courtyard Village crisis, she said. Wolf figures she saves about $20 every two weeks by washing up at Laundry Love.
It’s hard to feel good about yourself if you’re smelly and dirty, said a 40-year-old woman who only gave her first name, Ada. And it’s certainly hard to get hired, she added.
“This is a way of finding work,” Ada said while waiting her turn for a wash. “It’s a great program.”
Laundry Love started in California and has spread all around the nation. There’s a central website, laundrylove.org, that lists dozens of participating laundromats. But James said she’s heard there are nearly 300, and a handful overseas too. The other local participant is Riverside Laundry in Washougal, in a program sponsored by the Camas Friends Church.
Snyder said by email that Laundry Love is always looking for more sponsors and partners. They don’t have to be churches, he said. But they do need to commit to the project in an ongoing way “since relationship building is such a key component of what Laundry Love is all about.”
The best way to check the latest details on the Laundry Love in Rose Village is to visit its Facebook page: www.facebook.com/laundrylovevancouver.
“It means everything to me,” said Sundae Pennell, 46. “This is a lot easier than washing our clothes in the bathtub.”