I have been racking my brain, trying to figure out how to ask people for money for a cause they just don't quite understand. On paper, the idea of helping someone wash their clothes seems trivial and unnecessary. I even had someone post on our Facebook page that it seems "stupid that I have to pay for someone else to clean their damn laundry."
So many of us take for granted that this is an issue, and when posted all over social media, it still doesn't seem to be a cause pulls at the heart strings.
A puppy without a home, or a child who goes hungry seems a little more important. And don't get me wrong. These causes literally make me want to open my wallet and hand over my monthly paycheck. I can't stand to see a puppy in a cage! So how do we get the same response form people when they think about dirty laundry?
I still don't know.
But if you could have seen what I saw yesterday, I really believe you would have reacted the same way I did at every Sarah McLauglin commercials about the SPCA.
Here is a girl, barely 100 lbs, wearing a beanie cap to hide her dirty hair. Her nails are so long they have curled over her finger tips and her skin, so dry, her hands looked like hardened pieces of leather, beaten up by years of hard work.
Every time she tried to open her mouth, tears ran down her face, as she begged us not to think less of her. She had recently given over her child to her mother, because she knew she couldn't properly take care of her. Her husband, an abusive man, refuses to let her go so that she can make a better life for herself. She's afraid to leave, and yet attends domestic abuse classes so she can learn to survive.
She makes $9.50 an hour and can't quite get the 40 hrs she needs. And yet...even if she did get full time, that leaves her with $1,520 to survive on. Oh wait, I forgot taxes. Im not a mathematician, so I am gonna assume that her paycheck is closer to $1200 a month. She gets around $600 every two weeks. With this paycheck, she must pay her mother around $300 to take care of her child. That leaves $300. Now, she must pay her $600 rent, electricity, water and sewer, a phone and then find money for food. Yet...her bank account is not capable of that.
She walks downtown, looking at every food pantry box set out for people like her to find boxes of mac and cheese, or maybe a bag of pasta that she can make. No sauce, no butter, just plain noodles so that she doesn't starve.
Now remember, her husband won't let her leave, and yet she can't get help from half the agencies around because he is in her household. He works, under the table, but she never sees a dime for anything.
Her clothes, up until recently were hand-washed in a tub, with bar soap. She would do a couple work outfits at a time so she didn't get fired. She could never really clean the rest of her clothes, and so most of the time she walked around, filthy, or in her work clothes.
Yesterday, she came in with three loads of laundry. Clothes she hadn't been able to wear in a while. Every time she threw something in the wash, she would pop up and say thank you! When we fed her some of our lunch, she cried, and smiled and shoveled home made baked ziti in her mouth..full of joy.
It wasn't until she pulled her laundry out of the dryer that I almost lost it.
She pulled the warm clothes into one of our laundry carts and moved to the next dryer, very solemnly. I smiled, watching her from a distance, happy with the fact that we could help her.
The next thing I know, she is bent down, sprawled out across the warm clothes, digging her arms to the bottom of the pile so she could hug the pile of 'heaven' as she called it. She was sobbing, crying out "thank you", "thank you" as she smelled the fresh scent of Downey and Gain.
"You have no idea what clean laundry does for a person," she said. " I try so hard to help myself and I just can't make things better. This makes things better."
Just knowing that she could put on a clean pair of jeans made her world so much better. A woman who lives in a house with NO electricity, NO heat, NO phone, NO FOOD, felt a million times better because she had clean clothes.
How is this trivial? How is this not as heartbreaking as any other story. She isn't lazy. She isn't trying to fool the system. She is a heard working woman who just needed a little hope.
When choices have to be made, cleanliness must suffer. Heat becomes more important that clean underwear, when you are freezing.
Forget laundry, think of personal hygiene. Are you going think to get toothpaste when you are hungry? Are you going to be able to afford a tampon when you need running water? Are you going to be able to afford simple items that will afford you better health?
Cleanliness = healthy living.
We at the C.L.E.A.N. Project, Inc. see this more than you could ever imagine. People who struggle in a society where the poor just get deeper into a hole they didn't create for themselves. These are HARD working people. People who just need a little bit of help, a little bit of hope, so that they can maintain a life worth living. They are not 'system suckers' or lazy worthless people. Some are even disabled, and yet still work 40 plus hours just so they can eat.
We do our best to help everyone who walks in our doors, but we can't continue doing without your help. We need a way to continue providing personal hygiene items to those who need our help, or the wash and drying of clothes that we have promised. We need the funds to expand to other areas of the country, where our services our needed. Even now, we need the funds to maintain the program we have in our little laundromat in downtown Mechanicsburg.
We need YOUR help to give these families HOPE.
SO many people want something in return for their donations, and sadly there is nothing we can offer in return. EXCEPT for one thing: the reassurance that you gave someone a moment where they realized they weren't in this alone. The ability to put a smile on someone's face, as they walk out of the laundromat with their heads held high, knowing that they may still be struggling, but they don't have be dirty. They don't have to be embarrassed, and they, can get through the day knowing that YOU cared!
Keep that image in your head of a precious woman, crying into her clean, warm, scented laundry and remember, those were tears of joy, not the tears of despair that she had stained those clothes with days before. And when you are donating, remind yourself that YOU DID THAT! You gave a woman hope when she didn't think there was any left.