HARBOR CITY, Calif. — From the Pacific Coast Highway exit off the freeway in Harbor City, it is impossible to miss the towering exhaust stacks of the Phillips 66 petroleum refinery and the mammoth cranes of the Los Angeles-Long Beach port complex. This is working-class L.A., 21 miles away and a world apart from the velvet-roped wonder of Tinseltown.
Across PCH from a payday loan shop and next door to a trailer park, King’s Laundry seems an unlikely vessel for hope in difficult times. But on a Thursday night in December, as a cheerful crowd of more than 100 men, women and children gathered in a parking lot to enjoy hot dogs, hearty soup and Christmas tunes played live by a church band, hope was exactly the thing on offer — in the form of free loads of laundry, courtesy of the volunteers who donate money, labor and laundry soap at Harbor City’s twice-monthly Laundry Love event.
“It’s amazing that a Laundromat could change your life!” said Sylvia, who asked to be identified only by her first name. The shy, soft-spoken 52-year-old has been a Laundry Love regular for two years. “I live on my own and have a low income, a fixed income,” she explained. “But it’s not just about laundry — they reach out to me and treat me with so much kindness. No one judges you here. We’ve become friends.”
While saving a handful of quarters a couple of times a month can make a big difference for people living in challenging circumstances, Sylvia’s experience highlights what makes Laundry Love different: For “guests” and volunteers alike, the events are seedbeds of community.
“What I try to ingrain in my folks is that we’re not trying to serve ‘those people,’ ” said Derrick Engoy, the pastor of the Branch, a church group that organizes the event in Harbor City and supplies most of the two dozen volunteers needed to make it happen. “We’re trying to ‘become’ those people and become a community. So it’s not like doing charity. You’re really just doing life with the people you serve.”