I arrived at SuperMatt Laundromat in north Sarasota at about 8:30am to assist with the set-up of the Suncoast Campaign for Grade-Level Reading’s (SCGLR) Pop Up Neighbor Event. Teammates were already laying out a buffet station with breakfast food and assembling the “book nook” area with a robust selection of books donated by the Early Learning Coalition of Manatee County.
As I was making my way into the laundromat with a box of books, I noticed a van parked on the edge of the parking lot. It was an older model with some visible signs of distress on the body. The side door of the van was wide-open, and all the windows were down. Sitting outside the van next to the asphalt were two older men.
One was seated on a stool, the other in a lawn chair. I couldn’t imagine why they had selected the edge of this parking lot as their resting spot when they could have driven less than a half a mile and had a glorious water view, but there they were. They looked quite comfortable and were engaged in conversation as well as people watching. One of the people they were watching was me. As I brought in supplies, the men smiled and nodded at me. I called out a cheery, “Good Morning,” which was met with, “Yes, yes it is” and “You are right, it is a good morning.” Once again, I wondered why these two individuals were hanging out on the edges of the parking lot of a laundromat, but soon we were so busy that I didn’t give it another thought.
The Pop Up Neighbor Through Laundry event had SCGLR team members, volunteers, and community partners fully engaged from about 9:30am–1:00pm. During this time, the fees for laundry were covered by the generosity of The Patterson Foundation. SCGLR Volunteers were joined by community partners, including the Community Foundation of Sarasota County, UnidosNow, The Literacy Council, All Faiths Food Bank, Sarasota County Libraries, and the Baltimore Orioles. As people learned that they would be receiving free laundry, the mood in the laundromat elevated, and within a few moments, it felt like we were at a community celebration.
SCGLR Volunteers helped people carry the laundry from their cars, got them signed in, and then walked with them to their selected machines with their aprons full of quarters. Conversations between laundromat patrons and SCGLR partners happened quite easily, and at the same time, the children were connecting with new books and volunteer readers in the book nook. Two three-year-olds carried their new books around the laundromat showing them to everyone and taking frequent sit-down breaks anywhere they could find so the adults would sit down and read with them.
As pounds and pounds of laundry transformed from dirty to clean, the room full of strangers turned into a room full of neighbors. We carried load after load of clean laundry back to people’s cars and were gifted with hugs, high fives, and words of heartfelt appreciation.
After about four hours, I was making my way back to my car deep in thought about all the people we had met and all the children who would be adding books to their home libraries when I heard a voice ring out, “Hey lady, come on over here.” I looked up and saw the two men still sitting on the fringes of the parking lot next to the van. I noticed they had paper plates and drink cups from the buffet table in the laundromat. I took a few steps toward them, and the man on the stool said, “I don’t want to hold you up none, but I just gotta tell you, you all made a whole lotta people smile today. Everyone who left here took a smile with them. You done good today.” We all smiled at each other, and then I continued to my car. Is there a better feeling than helping your neighbors smile? I don’t think so. We will continue to pop up in various places throughout the Suncoast “to make a whole lotta people smile.”