Woman creates laundry vouchers to help needyAugust 17, 2018
By the Associated Press
MUNCIE — It started as an observation from Ashley Hunter when she worked downtown at Open Door Health Services. She saw a population arriving to the clinic in unwashed clothing.
Hunter, now a hospitalist at IU Health Ball Memorial Hospital, brought her concern to the IU Health BMH Foundation, which funded a voucher system for food at local farmers’ markets. Hunter thought, what if something like this could be established, but for laundry services?
“If I were a single mom having to get all my kids on the bus with my laundry, going to the laundromat, having to use cash that maybe should be being used to feed my kids ... I don’t like doing laundry enough at home even with a washer and dryer in my house, let alone with those types of struggles,” Hunter said.
The foundation initially provided $5,000 to fund the project. About a year later, Hunter has discovered the vouchers might have been needed for a long time.
HERE’S HOW IT WORKS
Those with vouchers cash them at The White Spot laundromat at 417 N. Reserve St. Each voucher is worth $20 in laundry services, equaling about two loads, washed and dried, in the laundromat’s large-volume washer and dryers. Brian Shrieve, owner of The White Spot, said that’s about a week’s worth of laundry for a family of four.
The White Spot contributes the soap, bleach, dryer sheets and fabric softener. Users just bring in their laundry.
A majority of the vouchers are distributed through The Jar church’s community basket that offers non-food items that food stamps do not provide. Central High School also receives about 10 vouchers as needed, which guidance counselors distribute on a confidential basis.
It was evident in the program’s first year that something like this could have been utilized. The Jar started passing out 25 vouchers per month, but those would run out quickly.
Catherine Shultz, a single mother, said she arrives to The Jar early when she knows they’re distributing laundry vouchers because the line can get very long. The vouchers help supplement Shultz’s budget so she can put her money toward other necessities, such as groceries and rent. She lives in an apartment complex that holds a laundry facility onsite, but cost is $1.50 per wash load and another $1.50 per load to dry. It adds up.
“When you’re a single mom ... it gets expensive,” Shultz said.
Dorothy Ivy, 70, has utilized the vouchers to wash clothes for the four members of her household. She said the vouchers have been beneficial, saving her money while she is on Social Security. She’s hoping the program continues through winter months.
“Financially, it really has been a blessing,” she said.
Because Hunter’s program isn’t a nonprofit, there were a lot of funds Hunter couldn’t seek. Medical staff at IU Health BMH pitched in enough for 250 more vouchers. Then, the Delaware and Blackford County Medical Society matched it, to boost the supply of vouchers.
So far, 500 vouchers have been distributed. Hunter said after the extra funding, The Jar will be able to pass out 40 vouchers a month.
WHAT COULD BE NEXT
Hunter and Shrieve have discussed the possibility of expanding the program, maybe even implementing a drop-off system with laundry facilities inside local schools.
National home appliance company Whirlpool runs a program that installs washers and dryers in selected schools across the country to study the results. According to statistics from Whirlpool’s website, 86 percent of high-risk students — those who missed 15 or more days during the school year or an average of 1.5 absences per month — increased attendance during the 2016-17 program. That same year, attendance rates for high-risk students increased from 82 to 91 percent.
Hunter is toying with the idea, but she said there are a lot of factors that need to be addressed for that to work. For now, she is continuing the vouchers to alleviate a few of their users’ struggles.
“The voucher program isn’t going to fix all of those things, but it takes away some of the financial burden,” Hunter said.
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