Salih Ah of Portland loads his laundry at Wash Tub II in Portland, where volunteers from Trinity Episcopal Church were helping asylum seekers and homeless people in the community with their laundry. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

With 15 minutes to go before the official start of Laundry Love, the Wash Tub II laundromat on Forest Avenue was already filling up.

Cathy Cinanni sat on a bench by the front window, surrounded by bags and baskets of laundry, as she waited to be called to start doing her laundry for free. She greeted nearly everyone who came through the door by name.

Cinanni is among dozens of guests who show up once a month at the Portland laundromat for the program run by Trinity Episcopal Church, which covers the cost of washing and drying laundry. It serves people who are homeless or on limited incomes, asylum seekers, refugees anyone who needs help and support.

“I’d be washing my clothes in my bathtub without them,” said Cinanni, whose only income is monthly Social Security disability payments.

Trinity Episcopal launched Laundry Love in January 2022 with the support of Williston-Immanuel United Church and HopeGateWay Church. The concept is simple: People who need to do laundry come in, and the churches provide everything required to get the job done. Volunteers help coordinate which machines people use and keep it all running smoothly.

Around 300 Laundry Love initiatives are at work across the country. Maine has three – in Portland, Biddeford and Bangor.



Laundry Love was founded when someone asked a homeless man in Ventura, California, how people could support him in a meaningful way and he responded: “If I had clean clothes I think people would treat me like a human being.”

Now the many versions across the country care for about 100,000 people annually. Since 2003, they have helped more than 1.5 million people do more than 2 million loads of laundry.

Trinity’s Laundry Love served around 600 people last year and cost $23,000, covered mainly by donations and grants.

When pandemic restrictions were still in place and laundromat access was difficult, piles of dirty clothes were being abandoned all over the city, said Trinity’s priest, the Rev. Peter Swarr. When he talked with staff from Preble Street and Maine Needs about cracks in the system that the church could help fill, they pointed to the laundry challenge.

Swarr and Deacon Heather Sylvester were familiar with Laundry Love through an Episcopal priest in western Massachusetts who had started doing it there, and they thought it was something Trinity could take on. They see it as a way to stand by people, support and respect them, and build relationships. 


“It’s not just about about clean clothes and saving somebody some money. It’s also about seeing them – that they’re people like everybody else, that they deserve dignity and that they deserve humanity in their lives,” Sylvester said.


Jean Talbot, a volunteer with Trinity Episcopal Church in Portland, helps a guest with their laundry at Washtub II. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

On the second Wednesday of every month, volunteer Margo Slining arrives at the laundromat early and sets up a small folding table by the door. As guests arrive, she adds their names and the number of loads they need to do to her list. She carefully writes their names with erasable marker on magnetic tags and tells them a volunteer will call them when it’s time to start their laundry.

Last week, people brought in 40 loads before Laundry Love officially started at 1 p.m.

Slining, unfazed by the rush, said that over the past two years she’s come to know many of the regular guests and their stories. She sees the difference Laundry Love makes in their lives.

“Not only does it make a difference with doing their laundry,” she said, “in some cases it really helps people to know that someone will miss them if they don’t show up.”


Among the first to sign in on a recent Wednesday was Salih Ah, a refugee who moved to Portland a year ago. He said he comes every month and likes that everyone is “wonderful and respectful.” When he saw a volunteer carrying a large bin of laundry soap and supplies, he rushed to help.

Sylvester spoke of the many barriers guests face in doing laundry. New asylum seekers may have difficulty both because of language and money – General Assistance doesn’t pay for laundry – or may worry about how to use machines in an unstaffed laundromat. Some guests have a hard time getting to a laundromat or paying what can add up to more than $10 per load.

Recently, a single father who works as an education technician in Portland schools came in during Laundry Love hours and was surprised when he was told that he could do his laundry for free. He told Sylvester he had just withdrawn the last $10 from his bank account to wash clothes.

“He was living less than paycheck to paycheck,” she said. “It feels to us that since the pandemic there’s been more people in that situation, where paycheck to paycheck isn’t quite covering everything.”

Sometimes people who are homeless tell Swarr they haven’t been able to do laundry in months. He tries to assist them with more than just their clothes. He has learned how to get people connected with agencies that help with housing. He can offer them food and request clothing and tents for them from Maine Needs. When a regular doesn’t show up, he worries.

Since the large encampment at Harbor View Memorial Park was cleared in January, Swarr has seen a drop in the number of laundry loads done each month because people at the Homeless Services Center can clean their clothes there. He sees that as a positive.


Swarr also feels the power of the connections he and volunteers make with people they otherwise might never meet.

“It’s a way to bridge some of the divides that exist in the city,” he said. “We see common humanity.”


Volunteers Margo Slining, left, and Linda Gordon from Trinity Episcopal Church in Portland work a table at the entrance of Washtub II where church volunteers help asylum seekers and homeless people in the community with their laundry. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

Nearly an hour into Laundry Love, every washer and dryer is in use.

By the end of the 4-hour event, 38 people washed 109 loads.

Tanesha Galante moves four loads of laundry from washers to dryers while her 5-year-old son plays with a friend. She’s been coming every month since late last year. She said her only income is from Temporary Assistance for Needy Families and every dollar is already budgeted. Saving $25 on laundry makes a huge difference.


“It’s been really great,” she said. “I really appreciate them taking the time to do this.”

At a nearby table, Ken Marks folds his four loads of laundry. He doesn’t come in every month, but finds it helpful when the machines in his building aren’t working or when he needs to stretch his disability checks.

“My laundry was getting backed up, and it’s very expensive to do laundry,” he said.

Finally, it’s Cinanni’s turn.

A volunteer helps her carry her bags and hamper to the back of the laundromat, where she loads clothes into machines and puts her magnet tags above the doors. When she told Sylvester the regular soap they provide irritates her skin, Sylvester ran back to the church to get scent-free detergent.

“These guys go above and beyond in any way they can,” Cinanni said.

When she moved into her apartment after staying in a motel during the pandemic, Swarr gave her Hannaford gift cards to help stock her pantry. She appreciates the emotional support she receives from him and the Laundry Love volunteers.

“They love me and let me love on them,” Cinanni said. “They’re amazing.”

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