By Kara Witherow, Editor
Washing loads of clothes takes lots of detergent, water and electricity, which, these days, tend to cost loads of money.
One South Georgia church is helping ease that burden and share the love of Christ through their Loads of Love laundry ministry.
Once a month, the Mizpah United Methodist Church’s youth group meets at a local Laundromat and offers to pay and do people’s laundry. They hand out quarters to everyone who walks in the door, regardless of need. Sometimes people turn away the offer of help and others give them an odd look or a questioning glance, but more often than not they’re met with thankfulness and gratitude.
“One woman we helped was overwhelmed that we were offering to help her; she just couldn’t believe it,” said Tammy Dixon, Mizpah UMC’s youth leader. “She had been homeless previously … and was so thankful that we were doing it that she offered to give us money to put towards the ministry.”
Born out of the church’s and youth group’s desire to help those in their own community, Loads of Love was launched about a year and a half ago after Dixon, Mizpah UMC pastor Rev. Jose Velasquez and the youth Sunday school class watched a video about missionaries.
“I believe in helping locally and starting where you are,” Dixon said. “I work in the school system and really believe that we need to start at home and help out here, and then branch out.”
Since being appointed to Mizpah UMC in 2008, Rev. Velasquez has preached about being more involved in the church and community, he said. Dixon shares his passion and carries it into the youth lessons and activities.
“Tammy is very big on doing things locally,” Rev. Velasquez said. “If we’re going to make a difference, she wants to start locally, in our community.”
So once a month after church and lunch, the youth gather back at the church and head to the Laundromat. They each wear custom t-shirts that read, “Spreading Loads of Love” and help Laundromat patrons carry their laundry to and from their vehicles.
The youth talk to the customers and explain what they’re doing, never forcing their faith, but explaining why they’re doing what they’re doing. The experience has helped bring some of the more shy teens out of their shells and has helped them talk about their faith more freely.
Rebecca Velasquez, a 13-year-old seventh-grade student at Effingham County Middle School, has been helping with the ministry since it started more than a year ago.
“I like to help people in our community and to see the big difference we make,” she said. “When we help someone and they leave the Laundromat, you can see the big smile on their face.”
The purpose of the ministry is to let the community know that the church cares.
“Our goal for this is just to show people love,” said Rev. Velasquez. “The number one purpose is to show people that they are loved, that there are people in the community that care about them.”
One young woman was down to her last few dimes when the youth stepped in to help her out. While talking to her they found out that she was homeless.
“We were talking to her about Christ and love and were washing her clothes, and we were able to get her connected with a homeless shelter and helped get her back on her feet,” Rev. Velasquez said.
Another woman came into the Laundromat, her clothes reeking of smoke.
Her home had caught on fire and she was bringing her laundry in a little bit at a time to get the smoke and soot out. The youth noticed that she was carrying her clean laundry in the same basket as the soot-covered laundry, so they went next door to the dollar store and purchased her a new, clean laundry basket so she wouldn’t have to put her clean, fresh laundry in a smoky basket.
A secondary goal, Dixon says, is to teach the youth about service and about sharing their faith.
“We want our kids to learn to give back to their community and we want them to be more open in talking about the church and about God and that it’s okay, even though they’re teenagers, to talk about God and be out in their community and share their faith,” she said.
“I like to help people and serve others,” said youth member Dalton Dixon, a 13-year-old eighth-grade student at Effingham County Middle School. “We love helping our community.”
One day when Rebecca Velasquez was shopping in Wal-Mart a woman they had helped at the Laundromat recognized her and called out to her.
“To know that people remember what you’ve done for them has changed me,” she said.