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Spirit of Acadiana: Lifting spirits by washing clothes

Posted at 10:15 PM, Sep 02, 2020
and last updated 2020-09-03 00:01:02-04

“I did an entire family yesterday, and I'm just about 95 percent sure that was all they had left,” reflects Elise Petijean of Rayne. “So, yeah, you can feel it a little bit. The pain, I guess, when you open each bag.”

Each bag Petijean refers to contains dirty laundry; but this story is about what happens to that dirty laundry.

Our tale is about:

The power… of clean laundry.

And knowing how, in face of an adversary named Laura and the carnage she brought to southwest Louisiana, an act that simple as washing clothes can let others know somebody cares.

Here’s my part, my time to stand on the soapbox:

In terms of helping those in Lake Charles and Cameron who were affected by Hurricane Laura, a lot of times we think we have to write a big check to make a difference. But some folks in Rayne have discovered that something as simple as washing and drying and folding clothes can change someone's life, give them hope and make a difference."

Back to our story:

It was the brainchild of Elise Petijean's friend Kara Turnage-to pick up, then wash, then deliver clothes to those who had either lost so much to Hurricane Laura or those who were working to bring relief.

“We did the National Guard on Monday, and you can tell these guys and these women probably haven't had a clean set of clothes in about a week now,” says Petijean. “You can sense the hard work in the linemens' bags."

Including Ms. Petijean (her immediate teammates are her mother and three aunts), there are 75 volunteers from the Rayne area alone. "I always knew that Rayne was a good community, full of great people,” adds Petijean proudly, she herself a Rayne native, “and to really see a group of 30 women come together, to help basically our neighbors is amazing."

Now, for her part, washing clothes isn’t really a chore, explains Petijean. “I love doing the laundry,” she laughs. “I’m a little OCD, so it’s driving me crazy to get laundry that is wet and smelly in just a bag, so I kind of do my part and send the clothes back a little fancier than they came.”

Here's that added Petijean-touch: As she finishes a load of laundry, she drops a personal note of encouragement in each bag.

"Sergeant Hanks,” she reads aloud from one of her notes, “thank you for your service and helping out our home state. XOXO, The Girls in Rayne."

They pick up in Sulphur, Lake Charles, Welsh and Iowa around 8 each morning; the clothes make it Rayne at 9:00-9:30 (Ace Hardware is the pick-up and drop-off site for the Rayne clothes-washers); and then the clothes are brought back to the Lake Charles area around 5 p.m. “It’s nice to know when I drop the bags off at our dropping point at Ace Hardware that we’re sending back some love. It’s humbling and it feels good.”

Volunteers are doing 80 loads of laundry a day. But the price? Ah, Elise Petijean says.. what she's getting back—visually, spiritually-- makes it all worth it.

"Dropping it off and seeing the smiles on the faces, I mean it's priceless. Something so, so small--something I feel we all take for granted every day-- for someone else, going through what they are every day, it's huge."

For those Lake Charles-area residents affected by Hurricane Laura who are in need of clothes washing, text The Cajun Laundry Angels at 936-276-9331 for further information. Those wishing to volunteer should use the same number or visit the The Cajun Laundry Angels Facebook page.

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