Every Thursday morning, Laurie Rahe delivers the elements for a special kind of Eucharist to the “Joyful Wash and Dry” on Garnet Avenue in Pacific Beach. With a pot of coffee from home and some store-bought pastries, Laurie and several homeless men and women meet to wash clothes and break the night’s fast. The rations are spread out on the white laminate counter top while the dryers hum in the background. Surely, Jesus Christ is present, too, providing hope with the simple meal.
Laurie has been a regular volunteer at the Community Christian Service Agency (“CCSA”) in Pacific Beach for several years. While working at the agency, Laurie noticed that the clients seemed to ask for new clothes and socks on a much too-frequent basis. Another volunteer incredulously asked, “Why don’t they just wash their clothes?” “Because they can’t afford to!” was Laurie’s revelation. So, she asked if she could start a laundry ministry for homeless people and the agency agreed. As a 40-year member of La Jolla UMC, Laurie was familiar with laundry ministries developed in disaster relief situations, and she was determined to apply the same concept to help the homeless in the beach community. It’s been four years since the weekly communion began in the laundromat. It’s been four years of making a special kind of family who come seeking laundry soap, but also gain hope.
To begin the laundry ministry, Laurie first established a relationship with the owner of the Joyful Wash and Dry. With his permission granted, Laurie tentatively asked for quarters from her congregation. Soon, rolls of coins began to show up in the collection plate, enough for several people to wash and dry one load of laundry each for the next few weeks. Laurie created a flyer and posted it in the local library. Then, about seven people, mostly men of all ages, began to sign up at the CCSA to do their laundry on a consistent basis. They have begun to care for each other and they spread the word when someone doesn’t come around for a while. Laurie’s congregation remains faithful with the donation of quarters.
Some of the people who come to the counter at the laundromat are very dirty. Many have learning disabilities and mental illness. All are appreciative of the chance to have clean clothes. “They seemed so hopeless,” said Laurie. “Clean clothing gives them a boost.” And, the laundromat makes money on otherwise slow mornings. Everyone benefits. “The homeless are not going to go away, so I believe we need to take care of them,” said Laurie, echoing these words of scripture: “For there will never cease to be poor in the land. Therefore I command you, ‘You shall open wide your hand to your brother, to the needy and to the poor, in your land’” (Deuteronomy 15:11) and “The poor you will always have with you, but you will not always have me.” (Matthew 26:11)
Even though we do not have Jesus physically present, as United Methodists we believe that when we participate in the sacrament of Holy Communion, we are united with Christ. We come to the table hungry for hope and healing. As we gather at the Lord’s table, we ask that our hearts and minds might be drawn into such communion with Christ, and with one another, that we may be living signs of Christ’s love in the world.
Certainly, those who gather at the laundromat on Thursday mornings come to the white laminate counter top hungry for hope and healing. And, Laurie Rahe is a living sign of Christ’s love in the world – providing hope — and maybe a little healing — one load at a time.