Laundry Project aids struggling Washington County families

Photo by Erin O’Neill Stacey Steed, AmeriCorps VISTA with the Washington County Homeless Project, right, demonstrates how the washing machine works at Wash-N-Go Laundromat in the Frontier Shopping Center on Wednesday. The goal of the Laundry Project is to assist 20 low-income families with the cost of using the machines, detergent, fabric softener and dryer sheets. The cost of the program is roughly $600 a month.

MARIETTA — Gathering dirty clothes up off the floor, lugging them to another room and throwing them in the washing machine is a luxury many people take for granted.

But for the staggering number of families living below the poverty line in Washington County, doing laundry can sometimes mean the choice between clean clothes and paying bills.

The purpose of the Laundry Project is to impact the monthly budgets of local families living below 135 percent of the poverty line by providing eight to 10 loads of laundry once a month at local Laundromats. The project is the work of AmeriCorps VISTA Stacey Steed with the Washington County Homeless Project.

“We started talking about doing this and the response from different agencies has just been incredible,” said Lisa Valentine, director of the Retired Senior Volunteer Program at the O’Neill Center. “The need is just so great. We don’t have a huge homeless problem here but there are a lot of people who are living on the edge.”

The Washington County Homeless Project started in 2013 with the first goal being to establish the organization as a 501(c)3 nonprofit, which it became last spring.

Photo by Erin O’Neill Stacey Steed, left, the AmeriCorps VISTA with the Washington County Homeless Project, often assists families during a laundry session, which can also serve as a listening session to determine what else these families need in the way of support.

“Our ultimate vision is to have a community resource center with shower and laundry facilities, community meals, internet access and mail drop,” Steed explained. “The Laundry Project is kind of a pilot program for us to learn how we can best serve the community.”

Steed will receive referrals from agencies or schools that work with at-risk individuals and families on a regular basis. The families are then paired with a volunteer, many of whom are part of RSVP. Together, the family and the volunteer take several loads of laundry to area laundromats. Money for the machines, detergent, dryer sheets and more is provided by The Laundry Project.

“More than just doing laundry though, it’s an opportunity for us to connect with people. It’s families telling us their stories and that helps us understand how we can build this program the best,” Steed said.

Lynn Doebrich is the Attendance and Home Services Coordinator for Marietta City Schools and said she could easily identify 100 to 150 children in the school system that would qualify for The Laundry Project.

“I’ve referred four or five families and I think one was able to take advantage of it,” she said. “There are transportation issues. For some, it’s a pride issue. And you respect that. But I think for those of us who work with this community, we’re always trying to come up with ways to help.”

The plan of The Laundry Project is to help 20 families a month. The estimated cost of a load of laundry is $3 and if each family has eight to 10 loads, the cost could be $600.

In December, the group was able to raise $459 at the O’Neill Center holiday craft show. Steed said people were excited to help out with the project.

“Right now we are spending the money that people generously donated. They were really connected to the idea,” she said. “Every time I share this with someone, I hear stories about the time someone’s dryer broke or the time they had to use the laundromat with their kids. I feel they’re very connected with how difficult that is, even if it’s within their budget.”

Monetary donations or donations of supplies for The Laundry Project can be made by contacting Steed at 740-373-3107 or ssteed@wcgov.org. For more information, visit the Washington County Homeless Project on Facebook.

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By the Numbers

* Estimated cost of a load of laundry: $3 per load

* Families served: Planning for five a week or 20 per month

* Number of loads: Eight to 10 per family

* Total cost per session: $150

* Total cost to program: $600 per month

* Money raised so far: $459 at the O’Neill Center craft show

* For information: Stacey Steed, AmeriCorps VISTA 740-373-3107 or ssteed@wcgov.org

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