The Gift of an Interruption Inspires Laundry Love
by Sierra Neiman
Greg Russinger, MA student at Portland Seminary, believes the best of life is not necessarily what happens when we follow carefully established plans, but what happens when something derails us. “A life interrupted is a life inspired” is his personal motto. Interruptions, Russinger believes, can reorient us toward new ways of perceiving ourselves, others, and God. His own life shows this: T-Bone, a homeless friend in Ventura, California, once told Russinger, “If I had clean clothes, I think people would treat me like a human being.” These words interrupted Russinger. Doesn’t every human deserve to be treated like one?
This interruption became the inspiration for the non-profit organization Laundry Love, which Russinger describes as a project he co-founded with T-Bone and friends. Rather than operating out of its own single facility, Laundry Love partners with more than 200 preexisting U.S. laundromats to provide no-cost access to washers and dryers for people facing significant financial challenges. Since Laundry Love seeks to affirm dignity and honor humanity, relationships are integral to the organization’s mission. When someone arrives at a laundromat to utilize Laundry Love, a volunteer provides detergent and coins to get the machines running, and is ready to strike up conversation. Laundromats are “third spaces,” Russinger explains; they are neutral places where people of many different backgrounds, ethnicities, and ages come together for a shared, everyday-life need. And in the time it takes to wash and dry a load of clothes, Laundry Love patrons and volunteers alike can experience what Russinger calls “the beauty of time” and learn what “companioning” truly is.
For a biblical example of companioning, Russinger urges us to look to the story of the “Good Samaritan,” and notice what the Samaritan says to the innkeeper, after taking the abused man to the inn: “Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.” What is remarkable is not only the Samaritan’s care for the vulnerable individual in that moment, or his willingness to cover that person’s expenses. Also remarkable is the Samaritan saying “when I come back.” Russinger sees this theme of “returning” throughout the Bible, and prioritizes that expression of persistent care with Laundry Love. When individuals contact Laundry Love seeking a one-time volunteer opportunity, Laundry Love’s coaches encourage them to look elsewhere. Laundry Love is a community of people willing to steep themselves in the beauty of time, building connections that cause strangers to become acquaintances, and acquaintances to become friends.
T-Bone’s desire for worth and welcome echoes a desire in the hearts of everyone. “We [all] need to learn to live fully human,” Russinger states. Yet we must also “remember the e,” Russinger says, and learn to be “fully humane.” In Russinger’s experience this involves working through fears, judgments, and biases. The process is often arduous, but it is worth the effort.
Russinger himself is no stranger to staying committed. Thirteen years have now passed since Laundry Love’s inception. That translates to nearly one million loads of laundry. Russinger admits his energy for giving leadership to Laundry Love ebbs and flows while he also works toward his seminary degree, serves as a pastor at Portland Foursquare Church, and invests in his family. But what sustains him are stories, from the Laundry Love community, of lives transformed—lives made beautiful by interruption.
For more information about Laundry Love and links to its social media sites, visit laundrylove.org.