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Wednesday, June 19, 2024

Gainesville’s ​Fresh Laundry & Cafe, Wash King offer free laundry day fused with literacy training

Effort is part of national LaundryCares Foundation initiative

<p>(From left to right): Sereniti Miller, Seyvyer Miller and Aariona Williams keep themselves busy with arts and crafts at Wash King on Tuesday, March 28, 2023.</p>

(From left to right): Sereniti Miller, Seyvyer Miller and Aariona Williams keep themselves busy with arts and crafts at Wash King on Tuesday, March 28, 2023.

Laundry and books, such a stark contrast in an ordinary laundromat. This would have been unusual on any given day.

Both ​Fresh Laundry & Cafe and Wash King offered a free laundry day Tuesday. LaundryCares Foundation, in partnership with Loads of Learning GNV, organized the event to transform everyday places into learning places.

This idea is commonplace for Tamika Stanley, 44, who said she has spinal stenosis because of permanent nerve damage. 

She brings women she meets at Cross Point Church of God to the laundromat and pays for their laundry if they can’t afford it.

“With me, it’s better if we do it together than you do it for an hour by yourself,” she said.

Community events in Gainesville motivate her to stay because they try to take care of the community, especially of students who don’t have money to eat, she said.

Dan Naumann, executive vice president of LaundryCares Foundation, said the organization began free laundry days in 2016 and offered 58 free laundry day events last year.

“It looks like we’ll do close to 5,000 pounds to 6,000 pounds of laundry for free,” Naumann said.

Local residents were looking forward to the event.

Connie Pope, 45, said her laundry piles up faster than the trash.

The event was helpful because Pope has five children — not including her five grandchildren — for whom she does laundry.

Her sister told her about the event, and she put it in her calendar so she wouldn’t miss it, she said.

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“This was a wonderful idea, especially with people that have a lot of kids in their families,” she said. “I’ve never seen anything like this before.”

Paul Hansen, laundromat owner of Su Neuva Lavanderia in Chicago, said he’s a board member of the LaundryCares Foundation and joined four years ago. 

The foundation is the charitable arm of the Coin Laundry Association, the national industry group for laundromat owners, Hansen said.

Three goals of the foundation are to provide free laundry days throughout the country, promote childhood literacy in the laundromat and create a national free laundry day.

It was rewarding to put smiles on people’s faces, Hansen said.

The foundation pays for the laundry using donations from nonprofit organizations such as the Clinton Foundation and Rand Corporation, he said. 

The foundation once raised $30,000 in 15 minutes, Hansen added.

The city of Gainesville, United Way of North Central Florida, Episcopal Children Services and the county libraries worked together to create Loads of Learning GNV, said Karissa Raskin, the city’s manager of systems change and special projects.

​“Laundromats are a very common place for individuals to go that often don’t have a lot of engaging things for kids to do,” Raskin said.

Her job allows her to identify root causes of systemic challenges, Raskin said, and she strives to find ways in collaboration that helps the community thrive.

​“I feel like we made a lot of people happy,” she said.

Rahkiah Brown, director of community impact at United Way, said the organization is a nonprofit organization that receives funds from workplace campaigns, and that money is used for nonprofits in the community through grants.

UW partners with Loads of Learning GNV to provide literacy and volunteering opportunities at the laundry facilities, Brown said.

It facilitates background screenings for volunteers of the ReadingPals program at the laundromat, she said.

“It’s really important to offer resources like this to the community to show that we care,” she said. “When your family is going to get their laundry done, they can have activities that engage them in literacy and overall help them to be successful.”

Sonia Ibarrondo, 52, said she sorts her laundry into six sections: towels, blankets, black clothes, red clothes, colorful clothes and white clothes. She picked up a flyer for the event from the Sankofa Public Library in Ocala.

Everybody needs a break, she said. 

“We’re paying so much for electricity so that worked for me,” she said.

Julie Johnston, family advocate, said Episcopal Children’s Services helps children prepare for school, such as school readiness initiatives for kids and families.

ECS sends volunteers twice a week to laundromats to read to children during a specific time or while their parents do laundry.

Johnston enjoys working with parents to show them they are their child’s first and most important teacher, she said.

“I really think it’s important for families to be engaged in programs that have opportunities where they can do things to feel really good about being a parent,” Johnston said.

“I wanted to bring this event to Gainesville because my vision for my laundromat was to be a place for community resources,” said Maritza Padgett, owner of Fresh Laundry & Cafe located at 3830 SW 13th St.

She built a specific room for the literacy program to have a space for volunteers to read to kids and offer free books, Padgett said.

“It was part of my goal before I even opened to include that,” she said.

Dan Prines, owner of Wash King located at 210 NE 16th Ave., said he’s been in the laundromat business for 37 years and has eight locations in Gainesville.

The free laundry day would be about 38% of the laundromat’s typical weekly profit, he said.

​Dan Yoon, regional business development manager of Laundrylux, said his company represents the Electrolux equipment line, a Swedish home manufacturing company.

He said he owned two laundromats in South Florida: one in Coconut Creek and another in North Lauderdale.

​The atmosphere the free laundry day creates for the community and people in the industry can’t be duplicated, he said. He is inspired to give back to people who are dependent on quarters.

​“Any time we have the option to volunteer for the community, it’s almost a no brainer where you practice what you preach,” he said.

Contact Kai at Follow her on Twitter at @kjohnsen21.

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