BY KAREN GERHARDINGER | MIRROR REPORTER — “Who remembers the smelly kid from school?”
That’s how Jasmine Conley often introduces Operation Clean Duds, a nonprofit agency that provides the underprivileged of Northwest Ohio with detergent, dryer sheets, laundry bags and quarters for the machines at the laundromat.
“Everybody knows that stinky kid. It’s not their fault. Some families have to decide between paying an electric bill, buying food or doing laundry, so they might stretch out the time between when they go. Not having clean clothes can make a difference when you’re going to get a job or when you’re trying to fit in at school,” Conley said.
Conley, an Army veteran and mom, founded Operation Clean Duds in 2021 after having the same dream several nights in a row. In the dream, she had moved to a house with a laundromat inside, but gray water, mildew and other catastrophes were making it a nightmare. Finally, after a week, she realized God was trying to send her a message.
“It was an impartation to help people with their laundry,” she concluded.
After posting her plan on Facebook, Conley immediately received $150 in donations. She contacted a University of Toledo Law School student who made Operation Clean Duds her semester project, putting together the paperwork for a 501(c)(3) designation. Within three months, Operation Clean Duds was official, naming its target areas as Defiance, Fulton, Henry, Lucas and Williams counties, plus portions of Paulding County. Lucas, being the most populated county, is the last frontier for the small organization.
“We know we’ll need at least $25,000 to start in Lucas because there are so many people in need here,” said Tisha Daleska, a small-business owner who met Conley during a Maumee Chamber of Commerce meeting. Daleska is now one of five board members, helping out with fundraising and volunteering at monthly laundry events. “Our goal is to start with the western part of Lucas County, in Sylvania and Maumee, and then expand.”
To raise the funds needed, Operation Clean Duds is hosting a purse bingo event on Thursday, February 15 at 6:00 p.m. at the Monclova Community Center, 8115 Monclova Rd. Doors open at 5:00 p.m. Tickets are $40.00 and include 10 bingo games. A cash bar and extra bingo cards are available.
It costs at least $40.00 to do laundry for a family of three, noted Conley, as she unloaded supplies at a laundromat: table, chairs, signs and sign-up sheets that ask for demographic information in order to qualify for help.
“Most people check off the box saying they make less than $15,000 a year,” Daleska said. “To do laundry can cost at least $40.00 before supplies. It can be expensive.”
Operation Clean Duds is the first in the area to offer this service, but before the pandemic, many churches would quietly help out some people in need by donating supplies or quarters, Daleska said. Since COVID-19, that’s pretty much stopped.
Currently, in the four-county area, the organization offers five scheduled laundry events each month, at a cost of about $300 to $800 per event at each location. Each person in a household is permitted four loads of laundry, so a family of four would have 16 loads.
Among the clients are veterans, cancer survivors and women fleeing domestic violence situations. Others know that by having laundry covered, they’ll have gas money for a week.
“People are always very grateful. They show up and say, ‘Pinch me. Is this a dream?’” Conley said.
One mom showed up with her two daughters and, after folding clean laundry, put it back into mildewed trash bags.
“That broke my heart. That’s when we started offering laundry bags – donated by Toledo Sewing Guild and church groups. Now, I see those same bags return every time,” Conley said.
In the process of staffing these events, Conley has noticed a camaraderie among those who are able to catch a break on what for most folks can be an afterthought – doing a few loads of laundry at home. She’s overheard some of the recipients offering leftover time on dryers, swapping stories and even becoming Facebook friends.
“I know my families’ kids and their birthdays. I bring coloring books for the kids at Christmas and I’m always partnering with other nonprofits, like utility assistance programs or Medi-care/ Medicaid, because if you can’t afford laundry, you can’t afford other things, like personal hygiene items, razors, tampons, soap and shampoo. When I bring those in, they’re gone right away,” Conley said.
“Your donations help us make lives better, one load at a time,” Conley said.