KAPAA — Clean clothes are a rarity in 20-year-old Tosha Taylor’s home.
“We go through laundry pretty fast,” said Taylor, mother to 1-year-old Kailani Burke, whose face on Wednesday was sticky and red from licorice candy. “She gets dirty, then I have to carry her and I get dirty — it’s hard to keep up.”
That’s why Taylor, who lives in Anahola, brought her laundry to Kapaa Laundromat to be washed, dried and folded — for free.
If you’re looking for the catch, there isn’t one.
Gratis laundry is service is made possible by “Laundry Love,” a new community outreach program aimed at providing as many residents as possible with free laundry service from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. on the first and third Wednesdays of the month. The program is the result of a partnership between All Saints’ Episcopal Church and Kapaa Laundromat in the Kapaa Shopping Center.
“Money-wise it’s really good for us because we’re kind of short right now,” Taylor said. “I’ve got my laundry, my daughter’s laundry and my fiance’s laundry. I always tell them they don’t have to fold it, but they always say they want to.”
Laundry Love is a national movement based on the principle that people living in poverty deserve the simple dignity of clean clothes and bedding. The idea for Laundry Love began at an Episcopal Church in Ventura, Calif. Today hundreds of churches, synagogues, mosques and civic organizations around the country have partnered with local laundromats to adopt the program.
The Kapaa program is the first of its kind in the state.
“Laundry Love is a gateway ministry, meaning it’s going to allow us to connect with the community, get to know their stories,” said the Rev. Ryan Newman. “There’s a lot of downtime in Laundry Love. You’re doing laundry but in between you’re just talking story, and I hope over time we will get to know families and find new ways to help.”
At the soft launch of the Kauai’s first Laundry Love program on June 17, 55 loads of laundry were washed, dried and folded by 21 volunteers, Newman said. On July 1, volunteers handled 72 loads.
After surpassing his goal of 80 loads Wednesday, Newman said he hopes to see volunteers laundering as many as 90 loads at the fourth Laundry Love event on July 29.
“Essentially, they’re customers,” said Reid Hashisaka, whose family owns the laundromat. “They pretty much handle everything; I just come in and make sure everything’s working.”
It takes about 14 volunteers to launder participants’ clothing, plus keep track of special requests — some participants prefer to bring their own soap, for example — and greet people at the door.
“I just love getting to meet people in the community, and then seeing them later in the week out and about, and recognizing them and being able to say hi,” said Chris Kostka, a volunteer from Kapaa.
For some volunteers, a healthy dose of competition keeps the night moving and fun.
“Anybody want their clothes washed twice?” Jean Nakamoto called out with a laugh. “We need to beat last week’s goal. We need seven more loads. Find me seven more!”
There are no eligibility requirements to participate in the Laundry Love program. The target client is any resident who might have trouble affording the $7 it costs to wash and dry a load.
All Saints’ outreach budget, private donations and grant funding provide the resources to offer free loads of laundry, detergent and dryer sheets.
“The cool part is we’re starting to get regulars,” Newmans said. “If we have the demand, we can keep on going.”