Hank Henry washes clothes at Suds & Duds Laundry during North Snohomish County Laundry Outreach on Dec. 1 in Arlington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Hank Henry washes clothes at Suds & Duds Laundry during North Snohomish County Laundry Outreach on Dec. 1 in Arlington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Laundry Outreach provides clean clothes, sense of dignity

The program offers free laundry while building relationships with those in need.

ARLINGTON — Five years ago, it started in a church.

“This one morning, I was leading a women’s group, we were in a back room,” said Sarah Higginbotham, director of North Snohomish County Outreach. “I had come out of the room for some reason and there was this woman that had come into the church, clearly experiencing homelessness… And I knew I was supposed to help her.”

A line in a book defined how she would act on her desire to help: “Don’t do for others what they can do for themselves,” Higginbotham said.

And North Snohomish County Outreach was born.

The organization’s staple program is Laundry Outreach: two days a week, volunteers and human service agency representatives fill local laundromats, providing free laundry and building relationships.

The program serves dozens of North Snohomish county residents, including Linda DeLong.

Two years ago, shortly after DeLong’s 28-year-old son suddenly died, she and her fiance lost their jobs at a Mount Vernon motel.

They found themselves on the street.

People fold their laundry during North Snohomish County Laundry Outreach on Dec. 1 in Arlington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

People fold their laundry during North Snohomish County Laundry Outreach on Dec. 1 in Arlington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

And when her fiance was hit and killed by a driver, she found herself navigating homelessness on her own.

“I’ve learned to never say ‘can it get any worse?’ Because it can,” DeLong said.

Her truck, with all of her belongings inside, was stolen earlier in the month; but she still showed up to Laundry Outreach at the Smokey Point Suds & Duds on a Wednesday morning. When volunteers heard about her truck, they asked what she needed and rushed to get her a rain jacket, soap and other toiletries.

Skye Bennett, a domestic violence survivor who said she narrowly escaped falling debris at 9/11, also relies on the free laundry provided by North Snohomish County Outreach.

She lives on less than $700 a month and after paying rent, she said she’s left with nothing.

“There’s no way I could do this on my own,” Bennett said. “It’s a blessing.”

And for Jennifer Ren and her 4-year-old daughter Kaitlynn, Laundry Outreach is one of the few outings they make each week while Jennifer’s husband is at work.

“We just kind of stay in our car just to keep from getting sick so she can still go to school — she loves school,” Ren said.

Ren has been out of work because of an injury and Laundry Outreach allows the family to save some money while they seek stable housing.

First, people come in to do their laundry; clean clothes are synonymous with a sense of “dignity,” Higginbotham said.

And while their clothes are in the washer, they can seek rent assistance from a 211 community outreach navigator and connect with representatives from employment and basic need service companies.

Grama Patty gives out a sticky note to mark a washing machine that is in use during North Snohomish County Laundry Outreach on Dec. 1 in Arlington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Grama Patty gives out a sticky note to mark a washing machine that is in use during North Snohomish County Laundry Outreach on Dec. 1 in Arlington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

“It is a different experience to have a conversation face to face than to call 211 and either wait on hold forever, not knowing who you’re going to talk to, not knowing that you have to say certain words to get certain information,” Higginbotham said. “Being able to just have a conversation in person has been huge.”

The program is funded by donations from Our Saviour’s Lutheran Arlington, Arlington United Church, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints – Arlington Stake, City of Arlington, Community Foundation of Snohomish County, McCann Family Chiropractic, Generations Community Church, and many individual community members.

More information about how to get involved or donate to the program can be found on North Snohomish County Outreach’s website: nscoutreach.org.

“I’ve always wanted to help people,” Higginbotham said. “I just didn’t know that it was going to look like this.”

Isabella Breda: 425-339-3192; isabella.breda@heraldnet.com. Twitter: @BredaIsabella.

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