Florida’s hot weather presents laundry challenges for even the best equipped households – those with ready access to equipment, detergent and other cleansing necessities.
For people who can’t afford their own washer and dryer, or regular trips to commercial laundries, the simple pleasure of changing into clean clothing can be elusive.
Jason Sowell wants to help.
“Clean laundry is one of those things that’s a social equalizer,” he says. “It brings dignity. It brings confidence in being able to put on clean clothes and sleep in clean sheets.”
Sowell, 34, launched the Laundry Project to help low-income people with the cost of washing their clothes.
Dennis Foster was one of those getting laundry love on a recent Saturday morning at the Big Wash open-air laundry in Sulphur Springs. It’s a way to ensure his family has clean clothes between monthly Social Security checks, he says.
“I live with my daughter and grandson and take care of all the washing,” he says. “I can’t afford a washer and dryer so this helps out a lot and I appreciate it.”
Helping Foster load his family’s clothes into the laundry’s machines were some of Sowell’s colleagues from a nearby Starbucks coffee shop, where he works part time.
Starbucks also offered free coffee and pastries to the wash-day crowd.
Adam Clayton says he is happy to do something for people living in the neighborhood near the Hillsborough Avenue store he manages.
“We were talking about how we could get involved in the community and Jason says, ‘Hey, that’s what I do,’ and this is in our back yard.”
To spread the word to needy people, Sowell enlists volunteers from Sistuhs Inc., a group that helps low-income black women.
Christina Wilson-Smith is a pharmacist and a director of Sistuhs Inc. She says passing out flyers about free laundry enables her to make connections that don’t rely upon professional credentials.
“I love to do the canvassing and bridge the gap between yourself and people who are less fortunate,” Wilson-Smith says.
Increasing support from corporations and community organizations is one way to measure how far the Laundry Project has come since it began four years ago.
Building on his background as a graduate of Trinity Baptist College and stints providing pastoral services at churches in Tampa, Sowell puts his beliefs into action through the non-profit organization he founded, Current of Tampa Bay.
According to Current’s website, its mission is to “educate young adults on current social initiatives and mobilize them to bring about change.”
Helping homeowners keep up with repairs (Hope for Homes Project) and providing holiday shopping trips for families (Affordable Christmas) are among other Current programs.
“We look for where there’s a need, especially in low-income neighborhoods,” Sowell says.
Sowell’s efforts attract enough support to hold Laundry Project events a couple of times a month in locations throughout West Central Florida including Brooksville, Lakeland, and Clearwater as well as Tampa. He is working to expand the project to other cities, such as Las Vegas and Canton, Ohio.