By Sam Pierce
Greers Chapel United Methodist Church in Magnolia has gained a reputation of being “the church that does your laundry.”
Once a month, Greers Chapel offers a free laundry service to the neighborhood at Main Wash Coin Laundry on East Main Street, through the national Laundry Love ministry.
“I thought it was an amazing thing,” the Rev. Dan Read said. “I was not expecting as big of a crowd as we do.
“We are not wanting anything out of the people we are serving. The first time I saw the impact it had on these people and receiving this gift, it was overwhelming.
“It is amazing what clean clothes mean for someone and how it lifts their spirit.”
Read has been the lead pastor at Greers Chapel for a year and a half, but the ministry began in 2013.
Before coming to Magnolia, he was an associate pastor at First United Methodist Church in West Memphis.
“We run about 40 in worship, but many people know us as the church that does laundry,” Read said. “We use donations to pay for all of it. We provide quarters for the laundry, detergent and fabric softener.”
Read said they average about 76 loads of laundry each month. Church members usually provide some baked goods as well.
“I didn’t realize people could be this nice,” Read said. “It has been a real blessing for them because, for some, this is the only time they can do laundry.
“It has made a difference in my congregation too, interacting with people that they normally wouldn’t interact with.”
Read said they get new people that show up every month for their laundry service.
‘We have gotten to know people through Laundry Love,” Read said. “When we see them around town, we get to know them a little better and build a relationship.”
Read says he hasn’t seen a lot of growth from the Laundry Love ministry, but he said a lot of that is because the church is located right outside the town.
“And the laundry mat is on the inner part of town and a lot of people that go there, don’t have access to transportation or they attend other churches,” Read said. “But that’s not really the goal.
“I think our goal is to show complete grace, no questions asked. We aren’t looking for anything; we are just looking to show God’s love.”
According to the website, www.laundrylove.org, “Laundry Love is a neighboring movement that partners with groups, schools and local laundromats to wash the clothes and bedding of low-income families and individuals.”
All of the supplies are completely donated by members of the church or other interested parties. The church does supply the coins for the machines.
Lu Waters, 83, a member at Greers Chapel, said she talked the board into doing this ministry after reading a story about a church in El Dorado doing the same.
“It is a national organization that began in California, and it has blossomed from there,” Waters said. “They help us as much as they can.”
“Lu has been doing this for a long time,” Read said. “She is very passionate about it, and she helps organize everything.”
Lu said her and Read have discussed the possibility of expanding the ministry to twice a month, but she said if they did that, someone else would have to be in charge.
“I don’t think I could handle two,” she said. “I am not completely handicap, but I am on a cane, and I start the publicity the first of the month and go from there.
“So he has mentioned (having two), but let’s find someone else to gather the supplies and organize it.”
Waters said it is something that “warms your heart and allows us to give back to the community and help people.”
“We had this one young man, that was married and had a girl in high school,” Waters recalled. “He didn’t have anything, including a car. His brother brought him up there and would wash his clothes.
“We just did our thing, helping with the coins, the detergent, and the softener and offered some peanut butter crackers and something to drink…This man’s brother came and told us one night, ‘I am so glad you are doing this. I don’t have to worry, he and his family have clean clothes once a month and get something to eat.’
“That gives you an idea of what I’m talking about because he didn’t have to tell us that.”
She also told a story of how one little girl blessed her with a picture that she had colored.
“We always have coloring sheets and crayons that we let them take home, and this little girl came up to me and said, ‘I did this for you,’” Waters said. “I don’t remember what the picture was, but that is something that stuck with me; that the child would thank me.”
Jerry Smith is the owner of the laundromat and Waters said he has been super friendly and helpful with the ministry.
He will occasionally bring fried chicken and biscuits for all the guests and volunteers.
“I’m sure it means a lot to this community for them to get their laundry done,” Smith, who has owned the laundromat for four years, said. “A lot of them have no income or very little income.
“So this might be their only food for the night as well, if they didn’t have something like this.”
“He bends over backward making sure all the machines are working, and he helps any way he can,” Waters said.
Waters said all of the guests who show up are registered so there is an order to things, that way nobody can jump ahead in the line.
“If I start at five, they are usually standing and waiting for us to open,” Waters said.
She said, in 2014, Greers Chapel served 148 families, and in 2016, they served 176 families. The numbers have only gone up since then.
“Before the last Laundry Love, there was an abnormal amount of shootings and murders for Magnolia,” Read said. “And we prayed about it to help our community.
“Plus, our country and state feel so divided, so to have all different types get together and pray for each other, I think they really appreciate that.”
“We prayed for the town, for the country, and for each other’s families,” Waters said. “To be able to do that, that alone is a blessing.
“The Lord has blessed us; I can tell you that.”