Volunteer Erika McBee reads to children and does arts and crafts with them at the Arroyo Services Lavanderia on South Broadway as part of the Laundry Love project. (Chancey Bush/)
Copyright © 2022
It’s a common sight for people who spend any amount of time in a laundromat: Parents or grandparents trying to get through the tedious chore of sorting, washing, drying and folding clothing, while keeping a distracted eye on bored children who would rather be anywhere else .
It’s particularly trying for those who must also keep an eye on their finances as they stretch their limited dollars to complete multiple loads.
Even if they don’t love doing laundry, Laundry Love, a program of United Way of Central New Mexico, is helping to occupy their children and relieve the strain on their wallets.
The program works with a South Broadway laundromat to offer free services once a month, as well as provide books and volunteers to read to kids.
Collaborating with United Way are the pro-literacy groups Read to Me! and Libros for Kids, the Greater Albuquerque Association of Realtors, and Shine Partnerships, which works with various community organizations, churches and Title I schools.
Erika McBee reads to Jaylynn Lucero, 6, at the Arroyo Services Lavanderia while her grandmother, Sylvia Lucero, does a couple of loads of laundry at no cost, all part of Laundry Love, a project of United Way of Central New Mexico. (Chancey Bush/)
Bev McMillan, manager of United Way’s Family Advocacy Center, said the organization started Laundry Love in March 2021 after hearing from Albuquerque Public School officials that a number of economically disadvantaged families did not have access to laundry services for various reasons. The inability of those families to provide their kids with clean clothing for school, she said, fed into the truancy problem.
“We just thought there must be some way that we could help these families out,” McMillan said.
Through their efforts and partnerships, United Way was able to raise funds to cover the cost of laundry soap and related supplies, as well as funds to pay for the cost of doing laundry.
Arroyo Services Lavanderia, 1603 Broadway SE, opens its doors on the second Thursday of each month from 1 to 7:30 pm offering anyone from the community free laundromat services.
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Simultaneously, the Read to Me! literacy network brings in volunteer readers, and books for kids to read and to take home for their personal libraries, and Libros for Kids, the local affiliate for Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library, signs up families with children 5 and younger to receive a free book mailed to their homes each month, regardless of family income.
“I don’t know if you’ve spent time in laundromats, but kids are often there against their will, they’re bored and they just start running around,” said Kathy Chilton, a coordinator and volunteer for Libros for Kids and Read to Me!. “We saw this as an opportunity for the children, for the parents and for the laundromat to have something for the children to do while improving their literacy skills.”
Sylvia Lucero was doing two loads of laundry during a recent free Thursday. It would have cost her $13, but, on this day, she didn’t have to feed the machines.
Edna Whitaker, foreground, and her daughter, Apollonia Jordan, take advantage of the Laundry Love project, which allows them to do free loads of laundry on the second Thursday of each month. (Chancey Bush/)
“Yeah, it’s expensive, so this is great for the community and for my granddaughter, who can read a book or have one read to her.” Either way, said Lucero, her 6-year-old granddaughter, Jaylynn Lucero, is improving her reading skills and “she’s got more of an interest and willingness to pick up a book.”
At least one other laundromat in the South Valley, Adobe Acres Laundromat, 3745 Isleta SW, has a similar program, said Ynette Colyer, a program director with Shine Partnership. Although not part of United Way’s Laundry Love project, it does provide books for children to read and keep. Each Wednesday from 10:30 to 11:30 am, 50% of the cost of doing laundry is covered by the Sandia Church of the Nazarene.
“I let the parents and grandparents know that the books are there for the kids to read and take home,” said laundromat owner Wayne Fox. “I don’t know if they’re making the kids read the books at home, but I do know that the racks here get emptied out every couple of weeks.”
Laundry Love volunteer reader Erika McBee said she doesn’t think that “anybody should ever have to decide between laundry or groceries, or between laundry and gas.” In addition, she does arts and crafts projects with the children.
“When you go to a laundromat, you’re there for a long time and, if you have kids, it can be kind of boring for them,” McBee said. “I do this because I love children. I do this because if you can read, you can do anything – you can learn anything.”