Airing Dirty Laundry in Santa Ana

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Laundry can be this awesome.

The coin-operated Lavanderia at the intersection of East Santa Ana and French Street, in downtown Santa Ana, has an old jukebox inside. Late Thursday night, Michael Jackson's "Billie Jean" is playing over the repetitive squeak of a dryer as the clothing in it spins around and around.

This is Laundry Love, a charity effort that helps people without a lot of money wash their laundry.

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Scott Overpeck is not a hipster.
The laundromat takes up two storefronts of a strip mall that is surrounded by apartment buildings and churches. By eight p.m., almost all of the machines are already in use. The cozy smell of detergent and dryer sheets linger in the warm air. Parents stand in groups talking. Next to arcade games in the corner, a dozen kids sit in a circle drawing in coloring books and molding Play Doh.

Scott Overpeck was the force behind Laundry Love Santa Ana, along with five friends. He followed a model created by JustOne, a nonprofit based in Portland, Oregon. There are at least 70 Laundry Loves across the country. Most are in California; some are in such places as India, Nigeria and Dallas, Texas.

At Laundry Love Santa Ana, Overpeck says the summer months draw more homeless, who don't have other options.

"The winter shelters are open now, so it's mostly families here tonight."

There are about 30 families pushing their laundry carts back and forth between washers and dryers. A few garbage bags stuffed with dirty blankets wait on a counter. The quarters for the machines are donated and Overpeck will take them from anyone who is willing. Sometimes business support them, sometimes the volunteers.

Overpeck also has a marketing background and knows how to use social media well. Each event lasts for two hours, and Overpeck estimates they do between 100 to 200 loads of laundry each time. That's a lot of quarters.

It takes a lot of organization too, which is where the volunteers come in. There is the event coordinator, the quarter coordinator, the soap and dryer sheet coordinator, the aisle masters, and the sign-in coordinator. They carry walkie-talkies, wear name tags, and try to talk with each person who comes in.

"We are doing laundry, but it's so much more than that. We're creating connections," says Overpeck.

He wants to get other nonprofits involved, and more local churches. If the church undertones aren't obvious by now, they should be. Overpeck hesitates to mention that most of the volunteers know each other from attending the same one, and he tries to underplay the church "thing," because he knows it makes people nervous.

"This is not a bait and switch," he said, referring to other organizations that would take advantage of their captive audience by preaching to them. 
 
Laundry Love Santa Ana is the third Thursday of every month, eight p.m., at 406 E. Santa Ana.
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