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A few years ago Steve Young was visiting his son in New York City and saw a sign in the window of a dry cleaning store—the business he was in back home in Portland, Oregon. The sign was offering free cleaning for anyone who was unemployed and needed clean clothes for a job interview. When he returned to Portland he put up his own sign. That was in March 2010. 

Here was a business owner, struck by the idea of helping someone get a job, who decided he could help those in his own town. If he considered the risk to his own bottom line, it didn't stop him. Nor did the fact that there would be those who would take advantage of the offer (i.e. those who were actually employed seeking free cleaning services.)

Since the recession began back in 2008, joblessness has reached epic proportions in the U.S. and in many countries abroad. According to a recent CNN report, About 2.1 million Americans have been unable to get a job for over half a year, and many much much longer. The government calls these people the "long-term unemployed." This number is roughly double the number of long-term unemployed than in normal times. So helping to get these people back to work, back to a job that allows them to put food on the table for their families, pay rent and avoid homelessness, is a giant deal. Cleaning someone’s clothes might actually be the difference between tucking children to bed in the back seat of a car or tucking them into their beds at night.

So back to the dry cleaners offering free cleaning for the unemployed: From my research, I have found that this act of kindness has been picked up all over the world. No one knows who came up with the original effort, but the magic is that others who owned cleaning establishments picked up the idea and brought it to their own businesses, wherever they were located.

Since the large, prominently displayed signs went up — you can read their letters from a block away — a large number of jobseekers have taken the dry cleaners up on the offer.
People bring in suits. They bring in ties. They bring in skirts and slacks and shirts. A couple of women even brought in bathing suits.

Kathey Butters, the manager of Plaza Cleaners, one of Steve Young’s shops said, yes, they have even cleaned bathing suits, no questions asked. “Who are we to say?” Butters asked, chuckling. “It doesn’t matter what they bring in. My staff knows it’s not just another black skirt. They feel good when they’re in it,” she said. “If they could feel good in that clean, freshly pressed skirt or suit, they might sit taller or present themselves better. That little push might help.”

And that little push has helped. Over the years, people have come back to say "thank you" and say they got the job. “It isn’t us though. It isn’t Plaza. It’s our paying customers that make this possible. If we didn’t have our regular customers, we couldn’t clean at no charge. That’s who deserves thanks,” said Butters.

That’s what generosity is. As John Wesley said: Do all the good you can, By all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as ever you can. If you think these small acts aren’t world-changing, consider the move from being jobless to being employed for these people. Amazing.
-Nancy

 


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