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The Gospel According to Clean Laundry

Some come with track marks from years of drug abuse. Others come with children in tow. Some are struggling through a bad week. Others, a bad decade. All bring their dirty laundry. They wash it and dry it for free at church-run laundry services throughout the United States. “Christ said we should feed the hungry and clothe the naked, and I think those clothes should be clean,” said Catherine Ambos, a volunteer at one such ministry in New Brunswick, New Jersey.

Churches have been washing clothes across the US since at least 1997, when a minister at First United Methodist Church of Arlington, Texas, started doing a circuit around the city’s coin-operated laundries, passing out change. There may well have been others before this. Today, these ministries exist across the country, run by churches of all traditions and sizes.

Belmont Baptist Church in Charlottesville, Virginia, has one of the older laundromat ministries still running. The church started helping people clean their clothes in 2010, when pastor Greg Anderson heard through another ministry that poor people in homeless shelters and long-term-stay motels would regularly throw away their clothes.

Anderson said, “It was just easier to go and get new clothes at a clothing-center type of ministry as opposed to being able to launder them.” The church decided to install five washers and dryers in a building on its property and open a laundromat. Today, volunteers estimate that they save people upwards of $25,000 per year. This is money they didn’t have, or if they did, they could now spend on food, gas, or medicine.

19.25 million US households are without a washing machine.

38% of US households earn less than $50,000 per year.

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