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Flint Pastor Builds Laundromat to Help Families Experiencing “Hygiene Poverty”

By Kate Stockrahm, Flint Beat

When Pastor Leo Robinson II came to North Flint’s Good Church, he surveyed the neighborhood and found an unexpected need: the closest laundromat was miles away. Soon, a low-cost laundromat will occupy the church basement.

Flint, MI—The nearest laundry facility to North Flint’s Good Church is technically just under three and a half miles away, but Lead Pastor Leo Robinson II rounds up.

After all, if most of your parish relies on public transportation, three and a half miles might as well be four—or 30—when it comes to doing a load of laundry.

“There’s no laundromat in a four-mile radius,” Robinson said, standing in the church’s basement and soon-to-be affordable laundromat, Good Laundry. “Over 75 percent of our people in this area depend on public transportation, so you can only imagine taking all of your clothes, getting on the MTA to go to the laundromat to sit for three or four hours to do your laundry, and then come back on that bus route. That’s taking up most of your day.”

As a pastor, Robinson is naturally animated. He punctuates his sentence by listing each part of the laundry process with his hands. He touches his index finger on the word “clothes”; his middle finger on “go”; his ring finger on “back.”

Robinson is also meticulous. Before moving into the church building at 1034 E. Holbrook Ave., he and his wife, Mio Robinson, commissioned a study of the neighborhood so as to better understand the community Good Church planned to serve.

That study is why Robinson can so readily talk about the neighborhood’s demographics, socioeconomic position, and, in this case, relative distance to essential services.

“And let’s say you’re a single mom or a single dad: what are you going to do with the kids when you’re there?” he finished, dropping his hands altogether—a gesture of exasperation he’s seen from residents too.

Pastor Leo Robinson II stands inside North Flint’s Good Church on May 3, 2022. After spending time addressing the needs of the neighborhood, Robinson found that many were in need of laundry services, so he went on a mission to make a laundry facility in the church basement, available to the church community and beyond. (KT Kanazawich | Flint Beat)

Good Church is not yet two years old, but Robinson and his wife have already found themselves an integral part of their North Flint community.

During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, Good Church participated in food distribution events at surrounding apartment complexes, and it was during that time that the couple learned of the area’s need for a laundromat.

“We started doing food because everybody during COVID was relying on the schools for food,” Robinson said, adding that the schools only offered breakfast and lunch. “So we started going into these areas to offer dinner and they were like, ‘Food is great, but we really need a place to do our laundry.’”

Robinson had never considered a nearby, affordable laundry facility could be of greater importance than dinner, but he has since learned about “hygiene poverty”—or the condition of being unable to afford hygiene products—and its effects on the Flint community.

“People are actually having to choose between clean clothes and basic needs,” Robinson said, noting that common government assistance programs, like SNAP, do not cover most hygiene supplies. “And that breaks my heart.”

So, in an effort to help all residents, not just Good Church members, who make the choice between buying food or detergent each day, Robinson and his wife set to work on building a laundry facility in the church’s basement.

Now, they’re nearly ready to welcome folks in for Good Laundry’s first spin cycles.

North Flint’s Good Church “Good Laundry” space on May 3, 2022. After spending time addressing the needs of the neighborhood, Pastor Leo Robinson II found that many were in need of laundry services, so he went on a mission to make a laundry facility in the church basement, available to the church community and beyond. The project is still under construction but Robinson hopes for it to be competed prior to the return of school in the fall. (KT Kanazawich | Flint Beat)

“It’s a big deal.”

Lead Pastor Leo Robinson II, Good Church

Aside from the inconvenience and cost, Robinson mentioned for adults, there are studies connecting limited access to clean clothes to lowered school attendance and chronic absenteeism for young people—absenteeism largely caused by bullying or lowered self-esteem.

In turn, that absenteeism can lead to lowered numeracy and literacy rates, higher levels of suspension and a higher likelihood of high school dropout—all trends school representatives have talked about with Robinson since he began work on Good Laundry.

“In our three-mile radius, we have Flint schools, Beecher schools, and also Kearsley schools,” Robinson said. “And all three schools are struggling with absenteeism… All of them say a lot of the kids aren’t coming because of their dirty clothes.”

Robinson said he spoke to social workers who said his laundry facility could help the schools out “tremendously,” so he feels an added pressure for Good Laundry to be successful.

“One counselor said that she takes kids’ clothes home herself to wash them,” Robinson said. “So I know it’s a big deal.”

Clean clothes being a “big deal” for Flint’s youth is something Linnell Jones-McKenney can attest to directly.

Jones-McKenney is the Community Outreach Director for the Sylvester Broome Empowerment Village (SBEV), a converted North Flint school that offers enrichment programs in academics, athletics, and the arts for children ages five to 17.

Jones-McKenney said SBEV began its Wash and Dry program in April 2018 after staff realized that many of their student-athletes were unable to clean their clothes between practices.

“What we came to understand was that a lot of times the kids had on the same clothes,” she said. “Not only did they have the same clothes, but those clothes hadn’t been washed.”

So SBEV installed a donated washer and dryer to help provide students with clean clothes while they were onsite.

Coach Linnell Jones-McKenney outside of the Sylvester Broome Empowerment Village. (KT Kanazawich | Flint Beat)

Jones-McKenney said the program offered kids new shorts and shirts to play or practice in—which they would sometimes keep—and washed those clothes between each session so every participant could start activities in a clean outfit.