Houston & Peach

Bonaire Girl Scout’s free laundry service ‘a blessing’

When Girl Scout Caroline Gowan first offered free laundry service in Warner Robins, she wasn’t sure anyone would show up.

The 15-year-old from Bonaire put fliers in bags from her church’s food bank and posted notes at nearby convenience stores.

Not only did her team of volunteers do nearly 90 free loads of laundry in June, they more than doubled the effort in July.

The idea for her Girl Scout Gold Award project arose from Caroline’s volunteer work with the food pantry at Bonaire United Methodist Church.

She and her mother, Michelle Gowan, make their own laundry detergent to distribute with the food.

“The laundry soap would always run out before the food,” Caroline explained.

Applying for Girl Scouting’s highest award, comparable to Boy Scouts’ Eagle designation, she was tasked with finding a need in her community and meeting it.

She launched “Loads of Love” early this summer with two dozen volunteers from Bonaire Methodist Church.

On the second Friday in June, they plunked in $115 in quarters and did 30 loads of laundry at “Git R Dun Too” at 726 N. Davis Drive in Warner Robins.

By July, the demand more than doubled, and so did the number of volunteers.

They did 88 loads of laundry using $266.50 worth of quarters.

“I think it’s going great. I would love to see it grow bigger,” Caroline said. “A lot of the people said this was a bigger blessing than a food bank or food stamps.”

Akela Gray is raising two children in Warner Robins and learned about the effort when picking up food for her family.

“I love it,” Gray said. “A lot of people around here don’t have washers and dryers so it’s beneficial.”

Kika Sneed was able to do five loads of laundry this month.

“Most of it was my linen, but I got it all done and I’m happy and grateful,” Sneed said. “This is a big help to the community and we really, really appreciate it. I know I do, for me, my daughter and my husband.”

Although Caroline committed to providing the service on the second Friday of the month for six months to be eligible for the Gold Award, she expects to keep it going for a year.

The Bonaire congregation has opened their wallets to fund the machines and laundry supplies.

Other donations are coming in from surrounding communities -- and states, her mother said.

“There are people who contacted me from Montgomery, (Alabama),” Michelle Gowan said.

They initially expected to be serving the homeless, but the majority of families are what Gowan considers working poor.

“It’s so empowering and uplifting to see how grateful these people are,” she said.

The Gowans drafted musicians to sing hymns and praise music while the clothes spin in the machines and tumble in the dryers.

“I was just expecting (clients) to be playing on their phone, but they really do get into the music,” Caroline said. “They come in with dirty laundry and leave with a renewed spirit and clean clothes.”

Outside, she and other members from her youth group entertain the children with sidewalk chalk, bubbles and activities.

Laundromat owner Chuck Mollenkopf was the only one in Warner Robins to accept Caroline’s proposal.

“Normally my Fridays from 3 o’clock on are totally dead,” Mollenkopf said. “I think this is a great idea.”

The building was overflowing earlier this month.

“It was crowded in that laundromat. You couldn’t stir it with a stick,” Michelle Gowan said. “There are some megachurches, those in Macon and Warner Robins, that could take a month and then it couldn’t overwhelm anyone.”

With so much need, Caroline is hoping other communities will start their own program.

Anyone interested in contributing to the effort or launching their own is asked to call Bonaire United Methodist Church at 478-923-7317.

Telegraph photographer Jenna Eason contributed to this report. To contact writer Liz Fabian, call 744-4303 and follow her on Twitter@liz_lines.