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Laundry for a Community in Need
February 20, 2020
Laundry service volunteers Brenda Rinker, Caroline McCormack and Marlene A. Perez.

St. Luke’s University Health Network and Laundry on Linden are giving low- and no-income people laundry services – plus medical care and a sense of community.

According to data collected in 2019 by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), more than 500 people, including many children, are homelessness in Lehigh and Northampton counties. For those who fall into this homeless or housing insecure category, things like health care and access to clean, dry laundry become a luxury they simply cannot afford.

The Laundry on Linden program is available for low- or no-income families and individuals every Tuesday at Family Wash Day Laundromat at 9th and Linden Street in Allentown.

Laundry on Linden is a community organization whose mission is to provide not only laundry services but also a sense of belonging and spirituality. In addition, St. Luke’s University Health Network sends a mobile medical van to the laundromat every other week to help uninsured individuals get medical care and the resources needed to promote health and wellness.

“Most people don’t realize the value of clean clothes or the power that such a simple thing can have on a person’s sense of self-worth,” says Laundry on Linden co-founder Jacqui Howells, a St. Luke’s Sacred Heart Campus parish nurse. “In addition to clean laundry, having spiritual conversations, prayer and access to other services like health care, can really make a difference in a person’s life.”

The idea for Laundry on Linden started a little over three years ago while Jacqui was working at a soup kitchen at St. Paul’s Church in Allentown. “I remember talking to a man about how we could do more to help him,” explains Jacqui. “He mentioned the need for clean clothes, and a seed was planted.”

Low- or no-income families and individuals are referred to Laundry on Linden from agencies like the Allentown Rescue Mission, Parish Nurses, Conference of Churches, Intensive Case Managers (ICMs) and Sixth Street Shelter.

Approximately twenty volunteers assist at the Laundry on Linden program. Most weeks, there is some type of food or snacks provided by various partners including the Love Bank at St. Luke’s Sacred Heart Campus, run by Hospital Chaplain Carolee Gifford.

Jacqui refers to the people who come to the laundromat as “friends” because of the casual, communal feeling that is the essence of the program. “While our friends wait for their clothes to be washed and dried, we can connect them with practitioners in the medical van or discuss what is going on in their lives and how God fits into it all.”

“Parish nurses like Jacqui treat the whole person, physically and spiritually and minister to the homeless or near homeless in our community,” says Jacqui’s boss and friend, Deb Bartholomew, RN, FCN, director of parish nursing, St. Luke’s Sacred Heart Campus. “So the Laundry on Linden program was a perfect fit for us.”

A parish nurse is a registered nurse who looks after the physical and spiritual health of patients and aims to integrate faith and healing into health and wellness. The parish nursing program at St. Luke’s started in 2002 at Sacred Heart Hospital. When Sacred Heart became St. Luke’s Sacred Heart Campus, St. Luke’s continued to support the faith-based nursing program that had become so vital to the surrounding community.

The mobile medical van is staffed by St. Luke’s hospitalist, Colleen Cahill, MD, St. Luke’s parish nurses and other practitioners who come to the laundromat every other week. “Since many of the people are homeless or housing unstable, they do not have health insurance or easy access to a primary care doctor, so while they are doing their laundry, we can act as a bridge to the medical resources they need,” says Dr. Cahill. “The Parish nurses have been quietly doing transformative work like this for the struggling inner-city population of Allentown for years.”

Jacqui says that Laundry on Linden is always looking for individuals and organizations to support their mission. Anyone interested in donating their time or money can contact Jacqui via cellphone at 610-462-6261 or email at laundryministry@gmail.com.