Clean clothes and human connections

April 15, 2021 BY

volunteers in Geelong which is the first regional location to join the program. Photo: SUPPLIED

AUSTRALIA’S first free mobile laundry service is calling for more volunteers across the Greater Geelong region.

Orange Sky was founded by Brisbane locals Nic Marchesi and Lucas Patchett in 2014 as a way to provide to free laundry services and genuine connection to people experiencing homelessness.

In March 2018 Geelong became the first regional Victorian location to join the Orange Sky movement which has created more than 5,180 hours of conversation and accounted for 3,067 loads of washing.

Volunteer service manager for Geelong, Margaret Francese, said the major impact of Orange Sky does not rely on washers or dryers, but rather happens when the ‘conversational orange chairs’ are pulled out during each shift.

“Some of these people who access our services don’t see anyone in their week-to-week, so when we ask them how they are going it may be their only community contact,” she said.

“We set up the conversational chairs in a circle so ‘friends’ are welcomed to sit with us, and we will have a chat with them while doing their washing and folding it because it is also about their dignity and who doesn’t want a nice fresh basket of laundry?”

Ms Francese said the moment that stuck with her the most when volunteering was when she was pointed out by ‘friends’ accessing the Orange Sky services.

“I always remember a ‘friend’ pointed at me and said ‘that’s the lady’, and I asked what have I done, and he said, ‘you treated me like a human’,” she said.

“It is the simple things that make people feel like they belong.”

The Geelong van named ‘Bluey’ services areas from Werribee to Whittington and can cover up to 13 shifts a week.

However, services where forced to shut in 2020 due to COVID-19 and since reopening Ms Francese says volunteer numbers have declined.

“Everything went wayside – all our service providers had to shut and some still aren’t open,” she said.

“Being a volunteer role you either get really young people in university or older people who have retired and a lot of retirees are quite scared of COVID-19.”

Despite having 50 volunteers, the Geelong organisation is need of more people who can take on day shifts.

“The problem at the moment is that we have a lot of people who work full-time and can only do evening and nights, but it is the shifts in the day which can be hard to fill at the moment,” she said.

There are currently 35 laundry vans in operation in Australia with two washing machines and two dryers in each that allow up to 40 kilograms of laundry to be done each hour.

Every week, the organisation does up to 7.28 tonnes of washing with the help of on-board water tanks and generators to allow the program to run anywhere in Australia.

To get involved you can volunteer by heading to orangesky.org.au/Volunteer or you can sponsor a chair that provides a seat at the conversation for a homeless person.

Thank you for supporting local journalism!