Laundry Love Gives People Back Their Dignity, One Laundromat at a Time

"If I had clean clothes people would treat me like a human being."


(Oliver Foerstner /

It all started with a question. One day, Greg Russinger and his friends were volunteering to help under-resourced people in Ventura, California. That's when he met Eric, or T-bone as he is know to the people close to him. Russinger asked him one question: "What would it look like for us to come alongside your life in a way that would matter to you specifically?"

T-bone told him, “'If I had clean clothes, I think people would treat me as a human being.”

This was an eye-opening experience for Russinger and his friends. "That very simple statement of desiring worth, wanting people to see him as a dignified human being, it really kinda set [events into motion]," Russinger told Upworthy.

The lack of clean clothing is common among under-resourced people. A survey from Feeding America found that 3 in 4 families who cannot afford household necessities skip doing laundry while 63 percent of families prioritize washing only their children's clothing. Unwashed clothing harms more than just a person's self-esteem, there are health risks to not washing clothing and bedding.

Russinger and his friends decided to do something about this issue. At the very beginning they just left coins out for people to use to do their laundry and then it grew. Later on, they partnered with a local laundromat to use the space once a month and paid to do peoples' laundry.

Now, doing laundry in a coin-operated laundromat has a lot of wait time involved. After you start your wash, you have to wait for it to finish before you can put the laundry in the dryer. And then you have to wait again. You can bring a book or do nothing, or you can socialize with other people doing laundry at the same time. And that's what happened.

Russinger noticed that the same people were coming to the laundromat month after month and they started bringing friends and families. "Relationships, conversations, all kinds of things get stirred and spurred," Russinger told Upworthy. "There are two places where you can go to still experience the world, and that's either a post office or a laundromat."

This early initiative led to the creation of the nonprofit Laundry Love and their mission was to occupy as many laundromats as they could. There are now 325 laundromats participating across the US amounting to over 1,300,000 loads of laundry for over 950,000 people. The organization is always looking for new laundromats and volunteers.

When Laundry Love comes into a community, they get other businesses involved and create a support network for the people who need it the most. "We go alongside people." Russinger told Upworthy. "We help them find jobs, housing or pro-bono lawyers for people that are undocumented to find avenues of documentation. We're working to lessen the fear and anxiety…we're helping tutor children inside these spaces."

Laundry Love has been involved with the Beach Coin Laundry in Huntington Beach, California for five years, according to Russinger. The barber shop next door is giving free haircuts and shaves and food is provided by community members and local food trucks.

In Springfield, Tennessee volunteer Martha Nelson said, "We average 780 loads a month. We have connected with two women's shelters here and that has been spectacular. They bring all their bedding and children's clothing and we do 85 loads for them."

People come to the laundromats to get their clothes cleaned, and they leave with a better outlook and a new community to support them. Russinger said that when people who used their services get to a better place, they come back as volunteers to help others.

And Laundry Love is not the only organization that recognizes the importance of such basic necessities as being clean.

In San Francisco, the Lava Mae Bus provides showers and toilets to the homeless population. Each bus provides 2,000 showers a week and their model has spread to other cities and countries.

Other organizations provide clothing for the homeless in street stores or through vending machines in ways that do not harm people's dignity or sense of worth. After all, preserving or giving people back their dignity is an important gift and it takes something as simple as wearing clean clothes to do so.

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