A typical Saturday for chores started off as a seemingly routine laundry day for families arriving to the SuperMatt in Arcadia. However, they were quickly greeted at the door by community volunteers and engagement team members from the Suncoast Campaign for Grade Level Reading. It wasn’t long before they realized they had stumbled upon a Pop-Up Neighbor Through Laundry event and that all of their laundry would be free thanks to the generosity of The Patterson Foundation.

Laundry costs are one of those expenses that we don’t often consider in our budgets, especially if we are able to go it at home. But many of our neighbors have to spend over $25 each week to provide clean clothing for their families. This can be a financial burden, especially for low-income households. With limited income and unexpected expenses, clean laundry could be one of the things a family simply can’t afford.

The Pop-Up Neighbor event is a partnership with the Suncoast Campaign for Grade-Level Reading and The Laundry Project. The Sept. 28 event at Supermatt Laundry on E. oak in Arcadia also doubled as a resource fair, with several organizations on hand to connect and share information with families. Celebrity readers such as DeSoto schools Supt. Adrian Cline and Miss DeSoto joined the event and read to kids while their parents laundered their clothing. Free kid books and other fun activities were also available to help engage the children in learning and the love of reading. Community volunteers assisted their fellow neighbors with loading, unloading and folding clothes and providing free laundry detergent and dryer sheets. 

Many community members shared how much the surprise gesture meant to them and their families. One young lady, Lisa, shared that she’d recently loss her father and this unexpected financial relief was a much needed blessing. Debra, another patron, was grateful to be able to launder for her family, especially their large blankets. Nearly 40 families and over 450 free loads of laundry were provided during the three-hour event in Arcadia.

The Suncoast Campaign for Grade-Level Reading is a four-county effort in Charlotte, DeSoto, Manatee and Sarasota counties to help children from birth through third-grade, especially those from asset-limited families, succeed in life by ensuring they read on grade level. With United Way Suncoast serving as the lead agency, organizations like the School District of DeSoto County, DeSoto County Health Department, Early Learning Coalition of Florida’s Heartland and the DeSoto County Education Foundation are working together to implement the initiative in DeSoto. The campaign seeks to increase the number of children reading proficiently by the end of third-grade, which makes them four times more likely to graduate high school.

“United Way Suncoast is delighted to be the 'backbone organization' for the Campaign for Grade Level Reading in DeSoto.  There is direct alignment between the work of the Campaign and the commitment of United Way to work collaboratively with local organizations to fulfill its mission to support education and financial stability for families in order to advance the needed capabilities to break the cycle of generational poverty,” said Susan Wetzel, United Way Suncoast Sarasota and DeSoto Counties Area president.

The next SCGLR event in DeSoto will be screenings of the "Brain Matters" documentary, which focuses on the importance of early childhood brain development. There will be two screenings in Arcadia from 4-6:30 p.m. on (Friday) Nov. 15, and 10 a.m.-12:30 p.m. (Saturday) Nov. 16. Both will be held at South Florida State College’s DeSoto campus and a free buffet will be provided.

To learn more about the Suncoast Campaign for Grade-Level Reading, visit gradelevelreadingsuncoast.net and follow the movement on social media using #GLReading.

To learn more about United Way Suncoast community impact programs and their mission, visit uwsuncoast.org.

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