Editor’s note: in the article below we reported that the Bordentown Laundry Project gets together on the first Wednesday of each month. It is actually the third Wednesday of each month, with the next session set for Wednesday, Feb. 19.
Once a month, a group of Bordentown residents get sudsy.
The first Wednesday of each month, participants in the Bordentown Laundry Project gather to donate time, money, detergent and other laundry-related products to their neighbors. The next laundry night is set for Feb. 5.
Rev. J. Matthew Tucker has been Rector at Christ Church of Bordentown for almost 12 years. He is a man with a diverse background—he has worked in software and healthcare before entering the Virginia Theological Seminary in 2005.
There he served as Priest-in-Charge and was made rector in 2011. In Bordentown, Tucker is also an active firefighter and chaplain of the fire and police departments, sits on the Bordentown City Environmental Commission and serves Burlington County as the Chaplain of the Burlington County Emergency Services, the Burlington Country Fire Chief Association and the 200 Club of Burlington County, to name just a few of the organizations he is involved in.
Clearly, Tucker is no stranger to doing good for his community, so when he first heard about the Laundry Project, he was intrigued—and decided to investigate further.
“There are nationwide programs that put on free laundry nights for those people who would be in need of such a thing,” he said. “Having heard about it, and heard about churches around the diocese doing nights like this, we decided to do something like it in Bordentown.”
Tucker started his new endeavor back in June 2018. His first step was to approach a laundromat—he went to Rivertown Laundromat, owned by Paul Ciarrocca—as well as the Rotary Club of Bordentown “to see if we can all come together to make it happen.” Everyone was eager to get involved.
The next step was social media. As Tucker said, “We put it on Facebook, Instagram, our parish weekly email, soliciting for quarters, laundry detergent, fabric softeners, all that we would need for the evenings.”
Tucker and his team also hung up signs around town for the first couple of months, and of course, through word of mouth, encouraging those that knew about it spread the word to others.
The website describes it simply: “The Bordentown Laundry Project, an initiative of Christ Church…seeks to help our neighbors who are struggling financially with doing their laundry. For those living in shelters, motels or on our streets, finding the opportunity to wash their clothing can be difficult, if not impossible.”
The site then explains different ways people can help, and noted the first laundry night (June 21, 2018) held at the Farnsworth Avenue location of the Rivertown Laundromat in Bordentown.
“We set the date for the third Wednesday of every month, from 6 to 9 p.m., and did all the publicizing about 10 days before the first event, so there was very little lead time. But the response was immediate and overwhelming,” Tucker said.
Overwhelming, indeed. Tucker got sent hundreds of dollars in quarters and 87 bottles of detergent, he said. The generous donors were from everywhere: the parish, the Rotary Club and simply members of the Bordentown community. Tucker remembers people dropping off quarters at the parish, and “if they would see me on the street, they would hand me bags of quarters.”
The first event, staffed by volunteers from the rotary and parish, went very well.
“We probably served about 30 people in total that first night,” Tucker said.
The system, too, was simple: people would come in with their laundry and sign in. The machines were first-come, first-serve, but they would go to the staff for whatever they needed: money for the washers and dryers, laundry detergent, whatever else.
“We are basically just there to help them if they need anything else to get their own laundry done,” Tucker said.
The team also provides snacks during the event, and that, too, has been bolstered by community spirit.
“In the summer, local farms help out with fresh fruit,” Tucker said. “Over the last year or so, we have also expanded into free haircuts as well.”
“There is a master stylist who lives in town, Ron Wehringer,” Tucker said. “We were friends, we knew each other from town, and one night he proposed the idea. So that started about nine months ago. There is a chair in the corner and if people want to, they can get their hair cut while they wait for their laundry.”
Additionally, people have donated children’s coloring books and crayons, other small toys, school supplies, juice boxes and more so that when families come in to do their laundry, everyone is engaged.
Tucker notes that the people who come in for the laundry service are a diverse group in every way.
“They are of different ages, ethnicities, religions,” he said. “Often, it is not those who are homeless, but what is sometimes called an edge population. They have to make decisions about what to spend their money on, because it is limited. If they spend say, $30 on doing laundry, they might not be able to buy medication, or something for their kids. So, with this, we give them a little boost.”
Tucker has gotten to know many of the people who come in, and one thing he has witnessed is, “not only how delighted they are with this outreach, but the people who come regularly have really formed a community around it, and help each other. They contact each other when support is needed. It really is terrific.”
The project continues to grow and has become a booming success.
“We routinely serve closer to 60-80 people now, with anywhere from 5-10 volunteers, and we have been helping other churches start the project, as well,” he said. “We do whatever we can to help other central New Jersey parishes get started: paperwork, whatever it is they need.”
When asked why he chose this project in the first place, he smiled and said, “we do it to show people a little bit of God’s love: anytime you can show someone that God loves them, that’s a win for us. And hopefully we can keep this going indefinitely.”
To help with the Bordentown Laundry Project, call the parish at (609) 298-2348.