Love, by laundry
Laundry day is always on Thursday.
Student council members at Madison Elementary School gather up the baskets from classrooms and bring them to the basement for a rotating team of three St. Paul people to wash and dry.
The laundry service is for anyone at the school, but particularly for kiddos whose families don’t have regular access to a washer and dryer.
“I love these kids,” said Barb Blake, one of the laundry trio. “I want to make sure that they come to school, and this might help.”
Barb, Kris Sherman, and Kathie Heaps are the laundry team. They rotate once every three weeks, arriving by 8:30 a.m. to begin. They are stationed in the basement at Madison, affectionately referred to as the dungeon, where they wash and dry clothes for 4-5 hours. The student council members then pick up the clean clothes and return them to classrooms.
The idea, said social worker Erica Bell, grew after a few people saw stories about a similar effort in California – an effort that showed improved attendance for kids who took part. The idea is that kids who have clean clothes will attend school more regularly. And studies clearly show that kids who miss school start falling behind their peers very early in measures such as reading and math.
“If kids aren’t in school, they’re not learning,” she said. “Having clean clothes also likely contributes to raising their self-esteem.”
Others use the washer and dryer at the school, too, Erica noted, including the school nurse to help students who have accidents.
Kris is a graduate of Madison Elementary, and she proudly wears her Madison volunteer shirt that notes she was a member of the class of 1961. The place where they do laundry used to be where the students would congregate during nuclear war drills.
“This is not a chore for me,” she said.
Kathie Heaps agrees. “If I was a kid now, I probably would have been using this service.” She told the story of a little boy who took an item she washed out of the basket, held it up to his nose to smell it, and smiled.
“That’s the paycheck,” she said.