Clean Clothes, a Hot Meal, and New Friendships
At Kipp’s Laundry in St. Cloud, Minn., over 100 people gather every other Tuesday to wash their laundry, eat a delicious home-cooked meal, and catch up on friendly conversations. This small neighborhood laundromat is home to Laundry Love, a grassroots volunteer collective that helps low-income families and individuals wash their clothes at no cost.
The project has had a tremendously positive impact, especially among the homeless population of the St. Cloud area. Jim* is in his 30s and had been homeless on and off for five years, sleeping in shelters and sometimes in a tent outdoors. Jim participates in the Laundry Love gatherings for clean clothes and a hot meal, but he says it’s also because he feels welcome there.
St. Cloud’s Laundry Love project began in 2014 as a casual group event organized by Nancy Dyson, a Twin Cities native with a background in social work. Already involved with a local homeless community through organizing nutritious public breakfasts every Sunday, Nancy had recently learned about Laundry Love through a friend’s shared video on Facebook. She felt particularly inspired by their mission to provide an accessible, friendly environment that emphasizes community while offering a valuable service.
“It’s a laundry program, but that’s just a tool for relationship building,” she said. “You’re there to give people dignity, to show respect, compassion, and love… and we’re all going to get our laundry done, too.”
Recognizing the need for a similar program to serve St. Cloud’s homeless population, Nancy reached out to local laundromats and found a fitting location at Kipp’s Laundry at 1001 9th Ave. Kipp’s sits close to several homeless shelters as well as multiple public transit routes.
Dan Kipley, the laundromat’s owner, agreed to let Nancy host a Laundry Love gathering on a Tuesday morning. Nancy reached out to a few friends in the homeless community and invited them to get together to do their laundry for free. Their first meeting drew four people and lasted less than two hours.
Today, Nancy’s Laundry Love meetings regularly attract over 100 people. Once a small group fueled by the mission to provide a basic human need, their movement has grown organically by word-of-mouth and handwritten flyers.
Food is also a major element of these gatherings. As with the community breakfasts that originally inspired her Laundry Love ambitions, Nancy stressed the importance of providing nutritious home-cooked fare.
“These folks get sandwiches on day-old bread everywhere they go,” Nancy said. “We needed to cook them real food.”
Second Harvest Heartland, as part of a commitment to pursue untraditional partnerships to create access among harder-to-reach clients, has partnered with Laundry Love to help get more nutritious meals to more people who need them through SNAP (formerly food stamps) education and assistance.
“It’s important for struggling families and individuals to know about every possible nutrition assistance opportunity,” Abigail Wormwood, SNAP Outreach Specialist said. “Unfortunately, many people aren’t always aware of all their options.”
The shared meals are a medium for strengthening communities and developing friendships. During Laundry Love meetings, Kipp’s is host to a diverse crowd as well as families from the nearby Somali neighborhood. All in attendance eat, wash clothing, and converse.
“I’ve met and made a lot of friends,” Jim said. “There are people you can talk to there that give you emotional support.”
Nancy said the Laundry Love gatherings give the participants a sense of ownership. Many people show up early to help set up and organize the meals, and some have been with the program for so long that they function as volunteers. She gladly accepts the support, recognizing that there is joy in being able to help.
For Jim, Laundry Love is a compassionate resource and a sanctuary from places where he is made to feel unwelcome. “I am treated like a person”, he said. “And they serve the best food in town!”
Second Harvest Heartland works with nearly 1,000 partner food shelves, pantries and other meal programs every day to reach the one in 11 Minnesotans who don’t know where their next meal is coming from. Learn more about our partnerships and how you can help.
*Name has been changed to protect privacy