Church shows love of neighbor at Russellville laundromats

“The first time, we just kind of all got some quarters in our hands, and some detergent, and we walked around and said, ‘Can we help you do your laundry?’” That’s how the Rev. DeeDee Autry explains the start of Loads of Love, a ministry of Wesley UMC Russellville that takes the church out into local laundromats to connect with the community. Wesley UMC already had begun a new type of community connection last year with The Crossing, a coffeehouse ministry in a storefront near the railroad crossing in downtown Russellville. Autry says a conversation that took place at The Crossing set in motion the Loads of Love ministry. “Probably about six years ago, I read about a community group that was doing this laundry project in Northwest Arkansas,” said Beth Latham, a Wesley UMC member who was part of that initial conversation. “And I thought, wow, if that’s what your need is, what an amazing thing to do for somebody.” The first effort was simple, and didn’t require a lot of advance planning. In addition to bringing laundry detergent and rolls of quarters, the group took along some snacks and toys, guessing—correctly—that children would be there. “And we just showed up,” Autry said. The first time, the group spent about $65 helping people wash and dry their clothes. On the next outing, the outlay nearly doubled. And it continues to grow every time. While many of the people doing laundry at a laundromat simply don’t have a washer or dryer at home, others may not have a home at all. “In a town the size of Russellville, we have about 50 or 60 people that are homeless, not to mention those that are displaced, either by loss of job, or eviction, or whatever,” Autry said. “So there’s a variety, but there’s a fairly good number of people out there that are not living in homes and don’t have the things that many of us have.” The church began Loads of Love in a single laundromat, but has started to move it to other locations around town to reach different neighborhoods. And recently, a child in the church held her birthday party at The Crossing as a benefit for the laundry ministry. Instead of gifts for herself, she asked her guests to bring items such as detergent, laundry baskets and even children’s toys to be used for the Loads of Love project. “I just see our whole community beginning to step back and recognize that if we don’t open our eyes, we don’t see what’s out there, and we don’t see our neighbors that are hurting, and we don’t see our neighbors who are hungry, and lost and lonely,” Autry said. “This is just a way for us to recognize that, and to be with them in a common place.”