It typically takes 800 to 1,000 quarters for volunteers to wash people’s clothes during a monthly Loads of Love outreach.
Seventeen-year-old Caroline Gowan, founder of Loads of Love, said that’s $200 to $250 depending on how many loads people bring.
And she said it includes quarters volunteers leave in washer and dryer slots when they leave Homestyle Laundry on Moody Road where they do other people’s laundry the second Friday each month from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m.
“We consider it doing Jesus’ laundry because Matthew 25:40 basically says what we do for the least of these we do for Jesus,” she said. “That keeps us doing this. It keeps me coming back even on nights I’d rather be somewhere else. It’s the people. Their stories. Doing this is just something people need and appreciate.”
Gowan said the process goes like this: volunteers load quarters into machines and people load their dirty clothes in. When done, volunteers move the clothes to dryers, then when dry, fold and return them.
Though the effort is geared toward poorer patrons who need the help financially — and a friendly smile from Loads of Love volunteers, Gowan said others have also been served.
“We advertise at the laundromat and hand out fliers different places to try to get people who are in need to come, but we’ve also done laundry for others like utility workers who came after the storms we had. They didn’t really have time or a way to do laundry. Our volunteers were excited to get to help, but we’re mainly here month-after-month for those that can’t afford doing laundry.”
Gowan said the germ of the idea came from hearing of Proctor & Gamble’s Tide laundry detergent trucks operating after Hurricane Katrina. But as far as she knows, Loads of Love is an original idea as it was developed as an ongoing local ministry.
“I was praying about what to do for my Girl Scout Gold Award project when I was 14,” she said. “I saw the Tide trucks and it got me thinking. Then I had a dream about how I could do Loads of Love. It took off from there.”
The Girl Scout Gold Award is the highest achievement in Girl Scouting and loosely comparable to becoming an Eagle Scout in Boy Scouts. Girl Scout literature says it recognizes extraordinary leadership through projects that show sustainable impact in their communities and beyond.
David and Michelle Gowan, Caroline’s father and mother, are among many dedicated Loads of Love volunteers, along with her brother, Chase, family friend Dee Dee Wooley and other friends and members of their home church, Bonaire United Methodist Church.
David Gowan generally carries the quarters.
Michelle Gowan said her daughter’s project clearly met Gold Award criteria.
“I’m proud of her for sure,” she said, “but I think what made me the most proud was she didn’t want to quit after she completed Gold Award requirements. She wanted to keep doing it — at least until the quarters she raised ran out. But they didn’t run out. People keep donating. Plus there’s the loaves and fishes quarters, too.”
The younger Gowan said “loaves and fishes quarters” refers to the miracle of Jesus feeding 5,000 with just a handful of bread and fish after blessing them. She said there have been occasions when the $250 in quarters brought for the evening turned into as much as $315 at the final count.
“We know volunteers often bring their own quarters and sometimes people drop by and donate to what we’re doing,” she said. “I guess that’s a miracle, too.”
Gowan said quite a few quarters are raised through auctioning off slots in her mother’s cookie-making class. Michelle Gowan, a retired teacher, conducts The Cookie School (www.thecookieschool.com) and slots are typically hard to get.
“But she donates a slot to Loads of Love and we’ve auctioned them and once raised more than $400,” Gowan said.
If Loads of Love has proven sustainable as a ministry, its impact has been local and beyond —another Gold Award criteria. Gowan said local and national media reports and the attention of various organizations has led to Loads of Love ministries starting in other places.
“That’s one of the best things,” she said. “It’s totally worth it to do what we do for the people here around Warner Robins, but to think others have started doing the same thing is — well that’s beyond what I could have imagined.”
Gowan said similar Loads of Love ministries have started in Macon, Albany, Brunswick and other Georgia communities. Others have started in nearby states like Alabama and South Carolina and, due to being featured by USA Today, a Loads of Love ministry was begun as far away as Yakima, Washington.
“Some places sent people here to see how we do it and I’ve gotten to go help other places start one,” Gowan said. “I get to speak at churches and to pastors and others like at the South Georgia UMC Conference last year. I was terrified because there were more than a thousand people there, but it’s really grown me as a person doing this. I was nervous just speaking at churches at first, but now it’s no big a deal — I mean the nerves. It’s a big deal getting to talk about Loads of Love.”
Gowan, a senior at Veterans High School in Kathleen, said she plans to attend Wesleyan College so she can stay close to Loads of Love.
Her pastor at Bonaire UMC, Scott Hagan, said he’s impressed with Gowan’s commitment and the team she’s gathered.
“It’s an exceptional ministry,” he said. “I think everyone wants to help others but Caroline is helping in a way that makes sense and meets a specific need people have. She’s shown there’s power in sticking with something and, in all fairness, I see God’s work putting people around her that have proven invaluable. She’s who she is because of a long line of faithfulness in her family.”
Gowan said there are many facets to what’s been done.
“I’m a typical millennial and I think teenagers get a bad rap about being self-centered,” she said. “I want to show there are good teenagers and good people who are willing to do good things for others. Everyone can have a voice and be heard no matter how old they are. A good idea is a good idea.”
Contact Michael W. Pannell at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Loads of Love Laundry Ministry
Where: Second Fridays 5 p.m. to 7 p.m., Homestyle Laundry,
2296 Moody Rd., Warner Robins, Ga.
Leadership: Caroline Gowan
Contact: (478) 923-7317, Bonaire UMC, Bonaire, Ga.