Dignity and detergent in East County
A group of volunteers in Gresham is giving the gift of clean clothes and kindness to neighbors in need.
Gresham Laundry Love was formed just over a year ago as a way to support community members that lack access to laundry facilities, and its services have become a staple in East County. A local branch of Laundry Love, a national nonprofit organization, the group washes the clothes and bedding of low-income and homeless residents.
The national initiative began in 2004 in Ventura, Calif., after a conversation between Greg Russinger and a man he met on the street. Russinger asked what the man would appreciate the most.
The answer — "I think if I had clean clothes people would start to treat me like a person."
Gresham's TJ Davis was first drawn to the program because of his friendship with Russinger, who was leading a branch in Portland. Davis loved helping those in need, but wanted to expand east toward his home.
He found a partner in MetroMat Laundromat, on Northeast 181st Avenue and Halsey Street, where his team could wash the clothes. Davis then recruited enough volunteers to kickstart the Gresham Laundry Love in August 2019.
"I found enough people willing to get involved and commit to (making a difference)," Davis said. "The people that keep showing up week after week with nothing really invested are why this is possible — (they) come down here purely based on care and concern."
A few months after moving to East County, the group secured steady funding from Rise City Church. Now Gresham Laundry Love runs from 6-8 p.m. twice a month on the second and fourth Thursdays. They absorb the costs and provide everything needed for each client to do two loads of laundry.
"Not having clean clothes causes people to be dehumanized — having clean clothes is a really underappreciated luxury," Davis said.
The Gresham group always provides a meal, and often gives out blankets, jackets, toilet paper, wet wipes, batteries, sanitizer, masks, tarps, rain gear, socks and other cruicial items.
Even with COVID-19, Gresham Laundry Love never missed a beat. They embraced social distancing and wearing masks, and were able to replace the older volunteers forced to step aside for safety reasons with new passionate helpers.
"We provide more then the clothes, we socialize, we remember their name and their stories," Davis said. "We are all there to help each other."
And the community remains thankful for their work.
This fall a former client texted Davis, explaining he wasn't in need of the service anymore because he was moving into an apartment with a washer and dryer. But he messaged, "I want you to always know that I will forever be grateful for all the wonderful things that you and your crew have done for me."
Davis replied, "Come down and volunteer!"
The following Thursday Davis and his former client were side-by-side, doing laundry.
Who: Gresham Laundry Love
When: 6-8 p.m. second and fourth Thursday of each month
Where: MetroMat Laundromat
1501 N.E. 181 Ave.
Follow on Instagram: tjdadof2
You count on us to stay informed and we depend on you to fund our efforts. Quality local journalism takes time and money. Please support us to protect the future of community journalism.