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Group helps needy with free laundry at Tampa-area laundromats

Jason Sowell, founder of Current, gets a hug from a woman who had her laundry done for free by the group.

12-1 PHOTOGRAPHY | Special to the Times

Jason Sowell, founder of Current, gets a hug from a woman who had her laundry done for free by the group.

Awoman balancing a basket heaped with dirty clothes stepped from a taxicab, followed by two small children. She wore a Burger King uniform from an overnight shift of kitchen scrubbing.

"I had just enough energy left to get a couple loads done," Yvonne Johnson said.

But she could hardly believe a sign outside Big Wash Laundry on Waters Avenue in Sulphur Springs: "TODAY your laundry done for FREE."

"Really?" She asked a smiling man who took her load from her. A faith-based organization called Current was covering all laundry costs for three hours, he told her. Volunteers pumped quarters into machines and poured detergent, offered cold drinks and played with kids.

"The Lord always sends me in the right direction," Johnson said.

For some people, clean laundry is a luxury, said Current founder Jason Sowell, 31. He says the group's goal is to show people they are loved by helping them meet a tangible need.

Current calls this the Laundry Love Project. Sowell, who lives in the West Shore area, organizes the events once or twice a month in neighborhoods such as Sulphur Springs, Seffner and Ybor City, where volunteers will be ready with quarters Saturday at Ybor Wash House, 1805 N 34th St.

"He's changing people's lives," said Brian Butler, a volunteer and retired Army officer, who has traveled to 68 countries. He said he wanted to do something that helped restore dignity to those in need.

At one recent laundry project, Butler said, he talked to a dad who had trouble getting laundry washed for his teenagers, who refused to go to school in dirty clothes.

Caroline Baerga, 30, came for a second time to the Laundry Love Project after hearing that the volunteers were there. She had cried the first time, overcome to find people willing to help her.

She has four children at home and hasn't had money for laundry since her husband was laid off four months ago, she said. She has been washing clothes by hand in her bathtub.

Government programs cover many necessities, but Baerga said she found nothing to help with clean clothes.

"Laundry is like the biggest problem in my household," she said.

Sowell founded Current as a not-for-profit in May 2008. Its goal is to educate young adults by doing social projects locally and internationally. About 70 volunteers, many of them college students, have helped with Current projects in the Tampa area. They collect everyday toiletries for women transitioning from prostitution, and grocery gift cards for victims of human trafficking. They've taken two trips, one to Los Angeles where they got the laundry idea from a group there, and another to Las Vegas, where they held their own laundry project.

The group launched the first local Laundry Love Project last summer. Now, members hold the events at least once a month.

Current member Brianna Burdelsky, 20, has never washed her clothes at a laundromat and hadn't realized that some people have to scrimp to pay for it. It takes about $6 to wash and dry a regular load at Big Wash and $8 for a large load.

Volunteer Franklin Cruz, a property manager in Tampa, donated $500. It covered $400 in quarters, as well as laundry detergent and bags. That was enough for about 100 loads for 21 families.

He got involved after adopting a "just do'' philosophy rather than just talking a good game.

Cruz met Jason Medley at a Christian entrepreneur group in Brandon, and now both help with Current. On this day, Medley met several women at their car doors hoisting baskets and trash bags full of dirty clothes.

Karen Piper-Rix brought lollipops, sidewalk chalk and detergent. She said by helping others, her own problems grow smaller.

Khnun Adams' laundry had piled up for a month. He came that day because he had nothing left to wear. He had scraped together nickels and picked through his dirty laundry to make a load of the essentials.

When he pulled in, Cruz met him at his truck door and carried his load. Cruz didn't know that Adams' back ached or that money had been tight for the part-time DJ and African jewelry artist.

"You guys really loved on me," Adams said to him. "I needed it."

Elisabeth Parker can be reached at (813) 226-3431 or eparker@sptimes.com.

Fast facts

Laundry Love Project

To help, drop off donations of rolled quarters, laundry detergent, 1-gallon plastic bags, laundry bags, coloring books, crayons, fabric softener and laundry baskets. You can also sign up to volunteer or donate online. Visit the organization's Web site at laundrybycurrent.org.

Group helps needy with free laundry at Tampa-area laundromats 04/15/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, April 14, 2010 6:54pm]

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