By Kara Witherow, Editor
It’s 5 p.m. on a Friday night, and 15-year-old Caroline Gowan is doing laundry.
It isn’t typical teenage behavior, but then again, she isn’t a typical teenager.
Laundry – a mundane chore for most – has become a passion for Gowan, a sophomore at Veterans High School and an active member of Bonaire United Methodist Church.
She and her mother, Michelle, make homemade laundry detergent for their family and for Bonaire UMC’s food pantry.
“The detergent is really popular; it runs out before the food,” Gowan said.
Laundry detergent often goes quickly at food banks, she said, because low-income individuals can’t purchase it with their SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) benefits, or food stamps. Laundry still has to be done, though, and that makes the Gowan’s homemade soap a hot commodity.
Wanting to help people do their laundry inexpensively, Gowan launched her “Loads of Love” ministry in June.
“There is a way to get food and a way to get clothes, but was nowhere to get your laundry done (for free),” Michelle Gowan said. “The need is so great.”
What began as a Girl Scout Gold Award project – the equivalent of the Boy Scouts’ Eagle Scout project – has turned into something much greater.
“I needed something to make an impact in the community and I thought this would be the best way,” she said.
After contacting several Houston County laundromat owners, Chuck Mollenkompf, owner of the Git-R-Dun Too Laundromat in Warner Robins, agreed to let Gowan host her ministry in his business on the second Friday of each month.
Gowan advertised Loads of Love through fliers stuffed in bags in area food pantries and by word of mouth. She was nervous that no one would show up that first Friday, but dozens did, and she and several volunteers washed, dried, and folded 30 loads of laundry and spent $115 in quarters.
By July, demand nearly tripled. Gowan and her team of volunteers did 88 loads of laundry and spent $266.
“Lots of people who showed up said it was a blessing and called their friends from the laundromat and told them to come down,” Gowan said.
The laundromat, typically slow and quiet on Friday afternoons, is loud and electric on Loads of Love days. Volunteers and patrons sing and chat inside, while outside, members of Bonaire UMC’s youth group entertain children with bubbles, sidewalk chalk, and games.
The ministry helps Shakika Sneed stretch her budget further each week. A single parent, she doesn’t have a washer or dryer in her home and relies on laundromats to wash her clothing and linens. The ministry is a huge help, she says, and more communities should have similar programs.
“I spend anywhere from $20 to $30 washing clothes, and for it to be free is a tremendous blessing to me because it means that money can go on to another bill that I have. It is very helpful,” she said. “This is a blessing to me and to the others here.”
Bonaire UMC members have generously supported Gowan and Loads of Love. Monetary donations have poured in from the congregation and they’ve supported the ministry with their time, too.
Gowan is grateful for the outpouring of support and hopes other congregations will see the need and start their own laundry ministries.
“I feel like not only am I doing something for the people around me and that I am doing something for people I don’t even know, but that I’m doing something for the Lord,” she said. “I am doing Jesus’ laundry! No matter how big or small, He would do it, and so can I.
“They come with their dirty laundry and leave with a renewed spirit.”