(Photo: Dan Coyro — Santa Cruz Sentinel) With each load of laundry freshly washed, Scotts Valley’s Ron Powers said he delivers a little something extra: love and the word of God.
The Apple engineer has spent a couple a days a week for the past eight months, as time allows after a day of work, volunteering to wash clothes for homeless people, for free.
“There’s a couple of things we want to accomplish. We want to restore integrity to people,” said Powers on a recent weekday night. “That they would feel valued, because I believe everyone has value. I believe God has created every person to have value and if he feels that they’re valuable, I need to feel that they’re valuable, as well.”
Assisting in Powers’ effort, dubbed “Loads of Love,” is a white Ford van he outfitted with two washers, two dryers, a generator and external water storage containers. The van, painted with his logo, was purchased with the help of a community fundraising campaign. When he can, Powers plugs into local power and water supplies, but is otherwise autonomous.
The Loads of Love Program idea originates from a program Powers first heard about in Australia and shares its name with a similar effort operating out of a laundromat in Huntsville, Alabama, and a faith-based ministry in Ontario, Canada.
Benefitting from a recent Loads of Love behind the Veterans of Foreign Wars post on Seventh Avenue was Kelley Gerkin, 54, who said it feels at times though the community considers the homeless “disposable.” Some of that viewpoint, however, seems to have softened recently, Gerkin said.
“This year more than ever, I’ve seen the community step up,” Gerkin said. “People are being involved, and I think it’s important that people are trying.”
The Rev. Brandon Johnson, with Soquel’s Gathering By the Bay, was volunteering with Powers on a recent trip. Johnson said the “simple message of God’s love blows them away,” referring to the homeless people served.
“People get lit up. You can see them beam. A lot of folks don’t look them in the eyes,” Johnson said. “Ron comes up and looks them in the eye and tells them they’re valuable. Says, ‘Hey, you’re valuable to God and he loves you.’”
For Devin Pierce, Powers’ appearance means his clothes will last a bit longer before he has to throw them away and hunt for new items.
“It’s pretty tough, especially having no money and stuff,” said Pierce, who spent his childhood in Santa Cruz and recently returned. “I don’t have family that I could just go to get stuff washed.”
The 28-year-old Pierce said he lost his housing in 2010, when he was incarcerated related to a stabbing in Oregon, and is now seeking mental health treatment locally.
Association of Faith Communities Winter Shelter director Debbie Bates has known Powers for years and said a better person could not be behind the effort.
“We all know what it feels like to be clean and what it does to our whole outlook on life. To have clean clothes, to have clean bedding,” Bates said. “That you’re walking into the day with a fresh start and that really helps what the day looks like and what your sense of self is.”
Ideally, Powers said, he will recruit enough volunteers who share his same vision to run the program more often and without him — potentially loaning the van out to area churches. Powers is borrowing the nonprofit status of Soquel-based His 2 Offer and said he plans to purchase a second van in the spring using a grant award from the Sereno Group’s 1% For Good program.