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Laundromat ministry reaches children, homeless

 


Laundromat ministry reaches children, homeless

May 20, 2004

By John Gordon*

ARLINGTON, Texas (UMNS) — Some Laundromat customers in Arlington are a bit wary when approached by a stranger who offers toys for children and free food. 

But they warm up quickly when they learn that Ron McLeroy is part of a street ministry that takes Bible lessons to unusual places.

“They pretty much open up to you quickly,” says McLeroy, who drops in at coin laundries on their busiest days, Saturdays and Sundays.

“It’s good for the church to reach out past its doors into the community,” he says.  “Basically, it’s taking Sunday school to the streets.”

McLeroy is part of the United Methodist Church’s Arlington Urban Ministries program.  The Laundromat ministry began in 1997. McLeroy took over the visits two years ago.

“We were trying to figure out how to build better relationships with the kids on the poorer side of town,” he says. “We came up with some different ideas of how to meet children.

“You run into a lot of homeless people around the Laundromats, too,” he adds. 

Arlington is a melting pot of cultures, serving as home to Hispanics, Vietnamese, Iraqis, and people from Africa and other parts of the world. Located midway between Dallas and Fort Worth, Arlington also has the distinction of being the largest city in the country without a public transit system. As a result, many of the city’s economically disadvantaged residents do not have transportation to church.

They do, however, walk by the hundreds to the city’s Laundromats, often with children in tow.

McLeroy, also known as Mr. Mac — it’s easier for kids to pronounce — supports his ministry by working at a convenience store. He is a probationary deacon in the United Methodist Church and got the call to help children while working as a substitute school teacher.

“Those are the ones that Christ talks about that the church is to reach, the poor and the needy,” he says. “And I truly believe that we have to go outside the church to do that.”

During his Laundromat visits, McLeroy gives away fruit, candy and cookies, as well as grab bags with toys for children. During recent trips, he passed out detergent and Easter baskets. He also hands out Bibles written in both English and Spanish. Area churches donate the gifts.

After he offers the food and toys, he gathers the children in the Laundromat for a quick Sunday school lesson. He carries a felt board with figures to illustrate the story of Jonah and the whale. Using other teaching aids, he offers a 60-second Bible lesson to adults.

“These are the people that I think are called ‘marginals,’ that’s the big term for them,” he says. “But I look at them as the disenfranchised, the ones that are separated from our communities, that are pretty much left out. They’re like aliens in a foreign land.

“I feel really blessed to be able to help them, to let them know they are a decent human being, and their lives are as important to God as my life is,” he says.

McLeroy’s Laundromat visits often draw surprised reactions.

“I’m still kind of in shock over it,” says Arlington resident Yolonda Mathews. “Twenty minutes before that, there were people in here wanting money for food. And then right after that, someone comes in and hands out food.”

More than 300,000 people live in Arlington. According to the Census Bureau, nearly 10 percent of them are below the poverty level.

Arlington Urban Ministries was started by First United Methodist Church and became an independent, non-profit corporation three years ago. The Rev. Suzi Boeglin, an elder in the Central Texas Annual (regional) Conference, heads the program.

Besides the Laundromat ministry, Arlington Urban Ministries offers financial help to families having trouble paying their rent and utility bills or buying groceries.

“We help people in times of crisis,” Boeglin says. “I was an associate pastor, and we were constantly dealing with people who needed money for rent, food, that kind of thing. It just kind of evolved into that kind of ministry because the need is so great.”

Arlington Urban Ministries also offers pastoral counseling and crisis intervention for families.

“Sometimes it works. Sometimes people are chronic,” Boeglin says. “We have some success stories. “

Success can be seen on the smiling faces of children as they receive toys and treats from McLeroy, and as they take in a Sunday school lesson outside the doors of the nearest church.

McLeroy says his message is one of equality.

“I think it’s important that we make people feel wanted,” he says. “People on the street sometimes, I think, feel like they’re not included in the rest of the community. And (the program) makes them feel as important as everybody else.”

*Gordon is a freelance producer residing in Marshall, Texas. News media can contact Tim Tanton·(615)742-5470 or e-mail: newsdesk@umcom.org.

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