When Stefani Jackson founded the nonprofit Laundry Love Hamilton two years ago, she did not realize the depth of community need and the positive impact of providing free laundry.
Laundry Love Hamilton began as a monthly event where homeless and low-income individuals and families would wash and dry their clothes and bedding at no cost. The laundry detergent, fabric softener and quarters were provided for up to three loads at Fast & Fluffy Laundromat in Hamilton.
“It started out as just something small that I said 'I’m going to run with' and, oh my goodness, it has been amazing,” Jackson said. “It has had a lot of growth. I thought I had a handle on it but it keeps on evolving.”
In two years, the nonprofit has served 720 guests and done 4,906 loads of laundry.
“We have served homeless guests who are just passing through to find better places to park and stay to guests that live locally,” Jackson said.
She said new guests often came for the first time with embarrassment.
“We watched them walk through the doors with their heads held down stating they were there for Laundry Love Hamilton,” she said. “We never forced conversation with them but made sure that they felt welcomed, they would not be judged and they were in a safe environment.”
Jackson said the goal of Laundry Love is to treat each guest with dignity.
“As if they were walking through my home doors, to use my own personal washer and dryer and sit down on my couch to visit,” she said. “Restoring dignity is our number one mission. Having clean clothes puts you into a different frame of mind.”
When COVID hit Laundry Love Hamilton took a three-month hiatus but then restarted the service by appointment.
“I can’t just leave people hanging especially during this time,” Jackson said. “We are needed especially with people trying to hold onto their jobs or trying to get jobs. You have to look decent and not smell to get jobs. Plus, people need to wash their bedding.”
She said that with COVID and everyone wearing masks this is a stressful time and clean laundry is a benefit for everyone. She said in schools, children with clean clothes attend school more, experience less bullying, have improved test scores and blend in with their classmates.
“Having kiddos I know blending is important,” Jackson said.
Corvallis School Superintendent Jon Konen said nonprofits such as Laundry Love Hamilton are needed in the Bitterroot Valley as there is a large need to support students.
“When families have to choose between laundry or food, the answer is simple,” he said. “Laundry Love provides free laundry services for families and creates a relationship with these individuals which makes this service so much more than just laundry.”
Jackson said having laundry sessions by appointment has benefits and will probably continue even after COVID.
“Everyone loves the appointments and I don’t think I’ll go back to the group events,” she said. “There is more confidentiality this way.”
Currently, the process is that guests contact Jackson through Facebook or by phone to set an appointment and let her know how many loads they have. She takes supplies and quarters to Fast and Fluffy where Laundry Love customers come in and get what they need.
“By doing that they blend in with all the other customers,” Jackson said. “This way these appointments fit into their schedule. They can do it at their convenience, perhaps on their day off. I do need 48-hours’ notice. It just seems to be working out. I’m a lot busier which is just part of the growth.”
She said that the appointment method does have disadvantages.
“I miss the one-on-one contact with our guests,” Jackson said. “I miss the children. Before we had to stop having them come to events when COVID-19 happened we would watch them wait for their pj's to get dry, run into the bathroom to put them on to enjoy the warmth of them. We built up relationships with our guests, trust was made, dignity was restored and new friendships were made.”
Laundry Love has responded to increased laundry needs and for families who have experienced a house fire. Laundry Love had a partnership with Walmart that ended in July and private and business donations ran out in January.
“It was the first time in two years that I’ve run out,” Jackson said. “I do write for grants, but the pool is greater for nonprofits needing money because private donations are down and more of us are asking for them.”
On Tuesday, Laundry Love accepted a $1,500 grant from Power of Change, a community outreach program funded by Ravalli Electric Cooperative (REC) members who round up their electric bill payment each month. The POC mission is to help local organizations address unmet needs in the areas of youth, education, public safety, health, community and emergency services.
“The Power of Change grant is such a blessing, their donation was huge,” Jackson said. “It was such an awesome thing for them to pick us. Yay! Thank you. We were down to the bare minimum and I have three big families who were running out of clean clothes.”
Jackson said that in addition to providing laundry service she gives donated items.
The Bombas sock company donates one pair to someone in need for each pair purchased.
“This will be our third year and they like what we do and how we help the community,” Jackson said. “Last March we received 3,500 pairs from super small to extra-large. We have plenty and just throw them into family loads and give them to Head Start.”
She also occasionally receives donations of hygiene products like shampoo, deodorant, toothbrushes and nail clippers from Amazon and REC also gave her their Warming Tree donations of hats, mittens and scarfs.
“Those are going like crazy,” Jackson said.
Individual and business donations are always welcome and can be given by visiting the Laundry Love Hamilton website, Fast and Fluffy Laundromat, or Ravalli Federal Credit Union. Reach Stefanie Jackson at 406-369-3416, email@example.com, or on Facebook, llhamiltonmt.