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Connecting through compassion at area laundromats

For the homeless, it's a challenge to merely survive. Some have lost jobs, are addicted to drugs or are alone. Others live with mental illness. St. Petersburg, known for hundreds of transients living on its streets, often for years at a time, depends on area churches and volunteers for help.

A group of volunteers at Christ United Methodist Church in St. Petersburg, Fla., is answering that call, moving beyond the walls of a traditional church, offering the down-to-earth ministry of clean clothes.

Each month they shuttle to more than a dozen area laundromats over a 30-block area. They donate up to $500 in quarters, greeting lines of patrons for whom, in many cases, clean clothes are a luxury.

It is part of a broader mission program called Connecting Through Compassion.

Armed with quarters, teams of volunteers like these from Christ United Methodist make monthly visits to area laundromats.

"We felt there was a disconnect between the church and our community; that's really been the story of traditional religions in this country," Adrian Taylor said. The chair of the church's mission committee and a certified lay servant, he noted that the church's monthly visits do more than simply wash and dry clothing.

Greeted with an embrace, those who benefit from this program often return. Christ UMC volunteers listen, looking for ways to improve this population's quality of life, according to Taylor. This sometimes results in shopping trips to a nearby thrift store or paying cab fare, he said. Beyond serving the homeless, Taylor explained how the laundry assistance helps single moms burdened with a dozen laundry loads or more.

"They're not able to keep up because of the other demands of the house," Taylor said. "We see that as a good point of intersection, to get engaged and meet their children." It also opens doors for invitations to Sunday services, he added. Lives are changed. Debbie Ashby, who manages one of the laundromats, not only joined the church, but also was married there. "Her involvement," Taylor said, "symbolizes the laundry program's success."

The program was formed because long-time members of the church wanted to do more in the community. They often donate funds to special programs like the UMC Children's Home, a sister church in Cuba, a free clinic, the local Salvation Army and the non-profit Daystar Life Center, located in the same neighborhood as the laundromats.

"All we needed to do was extend a hand, and I think we were able to do that through the laundry drop," Taylor said. "It literally improved lives, and that ended up being the essence of the connection." Other organizations are joining the effort, according to Taylor. He said the nearby Life Improvement Center and the Church by the Sea in Madeira Beach have already shown interest in collaboration.

Steve Heisler, freelance writer based in the Tampa Bay Area.

One of seven apportioned giving opportunities of The United Methodist Church, the World Service Fund is the financial lifeline to a long list of Christian mission and ministry throughout the denomination. Through the Four Areas of Focus churches are engaging in ministry with the poor which encourages them to be in ministry with their communities in ways that are transformative. Please encourage your leaders and congregations to support the World Service Fund apportionment at 100 percent.

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