It all started with a simple act of kindness.
In 2011, a young woman who lived in Debbie Rivers’ neighborhood made a Facebook post about not having any food to eat. Rivers knew the family had fallen on some hard times, so she started inviting her neighbor over for weekly dinners. Rivers never imagined what would happen next.
Over the course of the next year, she found herself feeding anywhere from eight to 15 young adults every Tuesday night. What started as a simple act of kindness had grown to touch many more lives. Although she wasn’t always sure how she was going to feed all those people, Rivers said things always seemed to work out.
“It was the craziest thing. First of all, I’m not even a good cook,” she said, laughing. “That’s not my ministry. But as the year went on, it was the craziest thing, food would show up on my front porch. People donated things. One week, my daughter goes, ‘Mom, do you know what we’re having for dinner tomorrow night? Or are you just waiting to see what shows up?’”
It was during one of these dinners that Rivers came up with the idea to host a random act of kindness party. “We were just sitting around the table, and I told them, ‘Okay, guys, I have this idea. I know it sounds a little crazy. What do you think? Would you be up for it?’” explained Rivers. “They were like, ‘yeah!!’”
Rivers invited a bunch of her friends, who divided up in different cars and simply went out looking for people to help. “I gave each car $20 in ones and fives, just in case they saw a need or something they wanted to do for somebody,” said Rivers, who imagined the party was just going to be a one-time thing. “Then we all met back at my house for lunch. Literally, as we were telling the stories of what had happened, people were crying. It was so impactful. So, we did it again, and then more people wanted to join, and then we did it again.”
As Rivers and her friends, who eventually became known as Salina Shares, continued doing random acts of kindness in the community, they encountered many people doing laundry in sinks or bathtubs. Once again, Rivers decided to do something.
In 2014, she started Laundry Love in Salina after hearing about other programs across the country. “That’s how it started, by being out in the community and hearing the needs,” said Rivers. “People need clean laundry. I would have never realized that was such a great need in Salina.”
Now, once a month, Laundry Love provides laundry supplies and pays for washing and drying services in each of Salina’s three laundromats. The program serves a variety of individuals and families, many of whom are homeless, elderly or disabled.
Just like her other simple kindness endeavors, Rivers had no idea what she was in for. She just took a leap of faith and trusted things would work out.
“I think that first month we had seven people, and now, we’re up to about 80,” she said. “I had no idea how much it would cost. I always say, if I knew how much it costs us to run it now, I probably would have never started. I would have thought there was no way. It was just my friends bringing rolls of quarters.”
Rivers decided to make Salina Shares a 501(c)(3) nonprofit in 2016, so she could apply for grant funding to support the Laundry Love program. After receiving a $4,000 YW Legacy Grant from the community foundation later that year, Rivers said it was like “the weight of the world off my shoulders. That paid for five months of Laundry Love.”
Laundry Love has since been awarded two more grants through the community foundation’s YW Legacy Fund. Additionally, local churches help support the program through fundraisers and by providing meals on Laundry Love days.
“Laundry Love is really near and dear to my heart, because what you see at Laundry Love is community. That’s been the greatest reward to me, to see a community built within our community of people that care for one another,” said Rivers.
In addition to Laundry Love, Salina Shares meets community needs by hosting play in the park events and providing move-in kits for families in crisis or transition. They were recently gifted a building in downtown Salina, which now serves as the organization’s home. “I’m just doing what’s been set before me, and this is what’s unfolded,” Rivers said. “It’s pretty incredible, but to me, it’s just totally a God thing.
“It is so fun to bless other people, it really is.”
(CLICK PHOTOS TO ENLARGE)