Of all the items donated to flood survivors in eastern Kentucky, officials have asked that clothes not be included.
The clothes are needed, but there’s nowhere to put them. Clothes soaked in flood water or covered in mud have to be cleaned, and washers and dryers aren’t available to many of those affected.
That’s where Kentucky Baptist Disaster Relief’s laundry units have been a blessing. They wash, dry and fold clothes that are mud covered or have been soaked by flooding. The clothes come stained and wet in whatever the flood survivors can carry. They leave clean and folded for pickup.
Fifteen KBDR volunteers have manned the laundry units and the shower units at Perry Elementary School in Hazard Aug. 1–8. They then moved to a local church location, Big Creek Baptist Church, so the school could begin preparing the building for students, said Carolyn Gray, who is the team leader in charge of the laundry and shower units. Kentucky’s team has been partnering with Mississippi Baptist Convention Board, one of 10 state conventions who sent Disaster Relief teams to serve in eastern Kentucky.
Nowhere to go
She noted many have come with dirty clothes packed in bags because they have nowhere else to turn.
They leave with clean clothes and thankful hearts, Gray said. “I don’t know how many have left here in tears as they go out the door. They can’t believe we’re doing this.”
One woman brought 13 bags of clothes, and every piece of clothing was washed, dried and folded. Gray said they’ve had as many as 30 families waiting for laundry to be finished.
“And that’s more than 30 loads of laundry,” she said. “Some families had two or three loads. We’ve done large amounts of clothes.”
Day and night
The laundry team works tirelessly throughout the day and into the evening, Gray said, with 14 washers and dryers cleaning and tumbling clothes non-stop.
It costs about $100 a day in fuel to keep everything running. They’re doing it not only to help the people of eastern Kentucky but to show the love of Christ. Gray, a veteran of 14 years with KBDR, plans on being there through the end of the month, if necessary.
After flood survivors get their clean clothes back, someone walks with them one-on-one to their cars to speak with them and hopefully spark a gospel conversation.
“That’s why we’re here,” she said. “It’s not just to wash clothes.
“They need to talk to someone, and our chaplains and other [Disaster Relief] workers are there to counsel them,” she added. “They need time to talk. It’s been such an emotional time for them. If they don’t know Jesus, they need that more than anything else.”
Helping people with ‘nowhere to turn’
Gray, who is from Benton in the western end of the state, commiserates with the difficulty they are experiencing. She said the December tornadoes went over Benton, but her home wasn’t damaged. But she saw how western Kentucky was devastated in December like eastern Kentucky has been devastated by flooding. It’s similar in a lot of ways, she said, with people having nowhere to turn.
“Some of the stories they tell you will yank your heart out,” Gray said. “Many said they lost everything, but they didn’t lose their family, and that was the most important thing. It’s all heartbreaking what they’re going through.”
The opportunity to hear their stories is important, and cleaning their dirty clothes is one less obstacle. Gray said many of the clothes have mold and mildew already, but they use a high-powered shock treatment on them. She said they also clean out the shower units after each use with the same treatment.
Clean clothes and a shower can change the disposition of anyone, she said. The hope is that it changes hearts where it is needed, too.