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HUNTINGTON BEACH, Calif. (AP) — Over the long months that Victoria Mitchell lived in her car with her infant daughter, there was one bright spot in her life: doing laundry.
Every month, Mitchell would trek to a local laundromat and take advantage of Laundry Love, a growing faith-driven movement that helps those who are homeless, or financially struggling by washing their dirty clothes for free.
Amid the comforting routine of fluffing and folding, volunteers befriend their patrons and often find ways to help that go beyond free soap and quarters.
Mitchell, for example, now has a job and place to live after the Laundry Love volunteers pooled their money to help her family rent a starter apartment. They have also watched her daughter Jessica grow from a newborn to a curly-haired toddler.
“You’re not just checking a box to give a donation. You’re spending the whole evening with these people and getting your hands dirty and it’s intimate — you’re doing people’s laundry,” said LuzAnna Figueroa, who volunteers at the group’s Huntington Beach chapter and has grown close to Mitchell and her daughter.
Richard Flory, a religion expert from the University of Southern California who has studied Laundry Love extensively, said Mitchell is just one example of how the organization can profoundly impact people through something as simple as washing their clothes.
“It’s an opportunity for people to live out their faith out in a concrete way, in a frankly elegantly simple model where you do something that’s necessary for people who don’t have the means to do it for themselves,” Flory said.
The movement began about 10 years ago with a small Christian church in Ventura, California, and has since spread to more than 100 locations throughout the country to people from all faiths.
Christian Kassoff started the Huntington Beach chapter two years ago with his wife, Shannon. On a recent warm summer night, Kassoff glanced around the laundromat and smiled at the dozens of people who depend on him and the other volunteers for clean laundry each month.
David Clarke, who has been coming to the laundromat for four months after losing his job as an aerospace machinist, estimates he’s saved $200 on laundry in that time, but said he gets a lot more from the washing sessions than savings.
“These people are wonderful people. They want to know what’s going on in your life,” he said. “They really care about you and how you’re doing.”