HAMILTON — When laundry day comes around, most of us probably think of it as a chore, but imagine how you’d feel if you didn’t have a washer or dryer, or you didn’t have the means to buy detergent or quarters for the laundromat.
In that case, you might think of it as less of a chore and more of a commodity. That’s the thinking behind a Hamilton program offering free laundry services for folks who need it.
“I guess if it wasn’t for Laundry Love, I’d probably be struggling,” shared Melissa Gray, sitting against a backdrop of washing machines in Hamilton’s Fast and Fluffy laundromat.
Gray will be the first to tell you that life isn’t all sunshine and rainbows.
“I had no car, no way to get places, my neighbor gave me a job, but there were times where my hours were so low that I couldn't do my clothes,” she said.
Amid this challenging point in Gray’s life, one thing became constant: laundry day.
A national program, Laundry Love has a branch in Hamilton thanks to organizer Stefani Jackson. She recalls seeing a homeless man in a grocery store years ago.
Wearing dirty clothes and avoiding eye contact with others in the store, Jackson thought to herself, “this is not okay, this man is a human being and he has every right to have clean clothes.”
The moment has stuck with her and ultimately led her on the path to Laundry Love Hamilton.
The quarters, the detergent, and the kindness are all free. While visitors aren’t required to interact with Jackson or other helpers, she often gets to know them pretty well.
According to Gray, the program offers more than laundry services, it’s given her a family-like friendship with Jackson and others who attend. For some, these visits are kept quiet.
“Confidentiality is huge. They get the bag from Janet, and then they bring in their laundry, nobody knows that they're here for it, and that's a dignity thing,” said Jackson.
By now, Laundry Love has become a full-time job for Jackson as she organizes appointments for anywhere from 25 to 70 people each week.
“We have grown so much. A lot of it is the renters. They've been displaced because their homes are being sold, they're borrowing camp trailers to stay in, they're staying with family, or the majority of them are in their cars, and they have kids." - Stefani Jackson
Hundreds of loads of laundry have whirled around these washers and dryers in the nearly three years since Laundry Love launched in the Bitterroot. Donations and grants keep the program afloat, and each week folks come and go, grateful for the help and the lack of judgment.
After all, everybody has dirty laundry.
“They bring in bags or laundry baskets that are broke down, and their heads are hanging down and they're like ‘I'm here for Laundry Love,’ and by the time they leave, they’ve got a pep in their step and you see them go out to their cars and they’re smelling the laundry. That's what it's about.”