PITTSFIELD — As the washers and dryers were going full tilt at North Street Coin-Op on Thursday, the laundromat patrons were having pizza, a slice of birthday cake and rockin' out to Phil Collins.
The celebratory fluff 'n' fold party was St. Stephen's Episcopal Church marking the one year anniversary of its Laundry Love program.
Since March 2015, church volunteers on the fourth Thursday of every month have provided laundry detergent, fabric softener and coinage — free of charge — to anyone in need of clean clothes, bed linens and towels.
An expensive household chore for many, the charitable laundry service has been a big hit for those trying to make ends meet, according to Rev. Cricket Cooper, rector at St. Stephen's.
"We are slammed for the three hours with all washers and dryers going," she said. "Some people come in with commercial-size laundry carts."
Cooper said on average each month 30 to 35 people do 60 to 100 loads of laundry between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m., costing about $300.
She lauded the laundromat owners for getting into the holiday spirit by covering the cost of using the machines during the free laundry day in December, just before Christmas.
Parish members and the community donate the laundry products and the money to pay for using the machines, but volunteers rarely have to lift a finger during the monthly event.
"Folks want to do their own laundry; they put the clothes in the washers, the dryers — basically they want to handle their own clothes," Cooper said.
Many who avail themselves of the charitable program are very appreciative of St. Stephen's kindness.
"This makes a real difference ... in my life," one person said to church volunteers. "Nobody else would pay for my laundry, but knowing I can come every month means I know I can save a little money at the end of the month, when I really need it."
Founded in the Los Angeles area nearly 13 years ago, Laundry Love grew out of a conversation with a homeless man in Ventura, Calif. He said people would treat him better if he wore clean clothes, according to the Laundry Love project website.
The nationwide philanthropic effort, to date, has cleaned an estimated 600,000 loads of laundry for 450,000 people.
St. Stephen's came across the program during a presentation at an Episcopalian seminar in February 2015. A month later, Laundry Love joined local food pantries as a necessity in Pittsfield.
"It really struck us that helping people do laundry was an area being ignored," Cooper said. "We already have programs to feed those in need."
Those wishing to donate laundry detergent, fabric softener or money toward Laundry love, can do so by calling St. Stephen's Episcopal Church at 413-448-8276, or by dropping off items at the church office on Allen Street, weekdays between 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Contact Dick Lindsay at 413 496-6233