Community Laundry Project offers clean clothes and camaraderie

The next free evening is slated for Oct. 8

Wash, rinse, spin… tumble dry.

Simple enough for anyone with a washer and dryer at home.

For others, it’s more than a mundane, around-the-house chore which involves not only finding the time to get to the laundromat or laundry room during open hours, but also the budget to use the washers and dryers.

For some, that might mean choosing between food in the fridge or clean clothes for the week.

And that’s where the Yukon Employees Union and Whitehorse United Church are stepping in with the Community Laundry Project.

The two organizations have partnered to provide free laundromat services for anyone needing to get their laundry done on the second Tuesday of each month from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. at the Family Hotel Laundromat on Ray Street.

Two events have been held so far – one in August and one in September – with about five volunteers there each evening and approximately 30 residents coming in to do their laundry over the course of the two nights.

“This is a huge gap in service,” YEU spokesperson Deborah Turner-Davis said in a Sept. 18 interview,

The initiative has been about a year in the making and began when she saw a video about another Community Laundry Project in the U.S.

It wasn’t long before Turner-Davis had shared the video with others and taken the idea to the union’s public relations committee, with the committee seeing the idea for Whitehorse as a chance to give back and provide a needed service.

There’s a number of United Churches across the country which sponsor and host similar laundry projects and Whitehorse United Church minister Beverly Brazier saw it as an opportunity to partner with another organization and help meet a need in the community.

“It’s just something simple; it’s something we can do,” she said, highlighting the financial toll on anyone who has to pay for washer/dryer use every time they wash their clothes.

Before going ahead with the project, Turner-Davis said organizers did some research to ensure the initiative wouldn’t be duplicating an existing service.

As it turned out there are some organizations providing the use of washers and dryers to their clients, but in the YEU’s research officials could not find any such service open to the general public.

There are many people who might work for minimum wage that may not be accessing the services of those organizations, but are struggling to make ends meet, Turner-Davis said. Those on social assistance can qualify to receive $10 per month specifically for laundry.

Charlene Smith, chair of the YEU public relations committee, said it costs $6 for the use of a triple load washer (less for other washers) and 25 cents for five minutes of dryer time. All of that adds up for people just looking to get clean clothes for themselves and their family.

“This is truly a community-wide need,” Turner-Davis said.

Knowing the importance of making the laundry project barrier free, the five volunteers on-hand for the two evening events had tokens and soap at the ready for anyone who walked in.

“A lot of laundry was done,” Smith said, recalling the 11 triple loads, nine double loads and five single loads that were washed and dried over the course of the first evening.

Amid the sounds of the washers and dryers both evenings, those coming in were also treated to coffee, juice and snacks provided by the United Church.

Those who came in were clear in their appreciation for the event, including some who spoke of often having to choose between paying for laundry or getting groceries or making other needed purchases.

“It’s always those trade-offs,” Turner-Davis said.

Smith noted there’s a desire to not only help residents with the cost of their laundry, but also make the chore of doing the laundry a little more enjoyable and create a positive community event.

Those that have come in over for the first two events have certainly helped in doing that, she said, noting that there was some discussion around celebrating the birthday of one of those who have come out to both and will have their birthday around the time of the next event on Oct. 8.

Activities like puzzles and books have been and will continue to be available to keep any kids busy, though there were no children who were brought by their families to the first two events.

The August and September sessions were not as widely-promoted so that organizers could get a sense of how things would go and where the need is in the community, Turner-Davis said.

After a successful first two events, efforts are underway to ensure everyone knows about the initiative through social media and other means.

Smith and Turner-Davis said the public relations committee will evaluate the laundry project after the Dec. 10 event.

As they pointed out it could be learned that more than one event per month is needed; or that a lobbying effort should happen to get supports for those that need the help; or that a larger partnership with more organizations should be pursued.

Contact Stephanie Waddell at stephanie.waddell@yukon-news.com

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