Give to everyone who asks--Luke 6:30
I do not possess silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you...Acts 3:6-7
It has been over two years since the first time I walked into the Highlander Laundromat with a pocketful of quarters. I had a very small goal, which was to help people who have a hard time coming up with the approximately $10 it takes to do a large load of laundry. I’ve modified a lot of things since that first day, in late summer of 2016. I felt very awkward walking into a laundromat without dirty clothes to tend to. The first thing I worked on after that first day was my spiel, which after many modifications now goes something like this. “Good morning! Today is Community Quarters Day. May I give you some quarters from the community for your laundry?”
I used to be more rigid about whom I would offer quarters to. I offered quarters to people who came in with their laundry, ready to wash, and also to people who were moving their laundry from the washer to the dryer. But after a few months of regretting not helping some people--those who had gotten down to the Highlander before I did--I started giving money to people who were already finishing their laundry when I got there. “You’re such an early bird, I never get to give you quarters--here’s some for next time, or for whatever you need now.” One busy day I gave out three rolls in the first few minutes. The ‘Mat had been full when I got there. I see this as a way I can serve more people at the Highlander.
A couple of weeks ago,at a Physicians for Social Responsibility training, I was chatting with a man from Winslow. We were talking about the poverty in our area, and he mentioned that he likes the work that KVCAP is doing. “Do you know they have a program where they give people money for laundry?” he asked me. “Who would guess that just seven dollars could help people! But it’s the difference between clean clothes and dirty clothes.”
“I know something about that,” I said. I told him I have been giving quarters away for over two years at the Highlander, and that I can truly say that a small amount of money does make a big difference to people. The man told me he would like to see a center where people could wash their clothes and receive other services. While this sounds good, there’s something to be said for supporting a small local business, and having infrastructure already in place--with somebody else maintaining it--leaves me with nothing to do but hand out quarters and conversate with my Highlander friends.
I hadn’t counted on the connections I would make in the laundromat--the stories I would hear, the hopes shared, the unexpected hugs, and catching up with people whom I see regularly at the laundromat, including Roberta, the attendant who is there most every time I go in. She started working at the Highlander only a few weeks after I started giving away quarters. Roberta has been an important person for me at the laundromat. She knows many of the patrons and their struggles. She offers suggestions as to what times and days I might find more customers at the laundromat.
As I was leaving the Highlander last week, I said goodbye to Roberta, who was folding clothes. I had just started to open the door to leave when she said, “One of these days, you’ll be in here on a Sunday, and you will give me quarters for my wash.” When I first met her, she had told me that she was thankful to have a washer and a dryer, and so I had never thought to offer her quarters. On this Friday, I was very thankful to have Roberta tell me she needed quarters, because I truly did not know--she never complained about her life, or even hinted that she didn’t have much. I immediately turned around, walked back down the stairs, put a roll of quarters on the table and told her, “I can give you quarters right now for you to use Sunday, or to use as you wish. And have a good Thanksgiving.” As I walked back to the parking lot, I thought about what it had taken for Roberta to ask me for quarters. I wouldn’t have thought to give her quarters otherwise. I’ve spent at least an hour a week over the past two plus years with her.. That’s more time than I spend with some of my friends and family.
I park at the Concourse when I go to the laundromat, and as I walked down the stairs toward my car, I saw a woman standing on the sidewalk looking at me. “Will you help me?” she asked in a soft voice. I stopped. She was probably in her 40s, a small woman with a red jacket on, hood up. She looked sad. “What is it you need?” I asked her. “I would like a couple of dollars for coffee,” she said to me. I dug into my purse for my last roll of quarters. I explained that people at my church give me quarters to give to people at the laundromat, and that I would like to give some of those quarters to her. She accepted the quarters and thanked me. “I’m glad I ran into you,” I said to her. “You’re welcome,” she said, and I knew my thanks had been heard.