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‘Loads of hope’: Tide, Verizon set up in Walmart parking lot to provide laundry services, Wi-Fi

LAPLACE — Amidst the sweltering heat, limited water supply and lack of electricity following Hurricane Ida, clean clothes and the ability to connect to the internet can seem like a luxury.

Companies like Verizon and Tide are aiming to provide a “load of hope” and alleviate some stress for residents at this time by setting up areas in the Walmart parking lot on West Airline Highway to provide laundry services and free Wi-Fi.

Laura Karnes of Matthew 25: Ministries, which is partnering with Tide in the effort, said volunteers are washing, drying and folding one bag of laundry per household each day from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Those who drop off a bag of laundry are notified via text or call when it’s ready. But since so many still have spotty cell reception, Karnes said pick-up can be within a 24-hour period.

Only clothes and a few towels are eligible, but bedding is not. Karnes said Tide and the ministry plan to be in the Walmart parking lot location indefinitely.

By noon, Karnes had already reached capacity after receiving 200 loads of laundry. For those who asked, she provided sample-sized laundry detergent.

LaPlace resident Mavis Drayton said it was “a beautiful idea.” Her home sustained significant damage to the roof, master bedroom and hallway after the ceiling collapsed. And between going back-and-forth among friends and family for shelter, it’s a lifesaver.

“I had nowhere to go to wash,” Drayton said. “And no running water. I was going to have to ride all the way to Gonzales, New Orleans, or wherever has electricity.”

After dropping off her load, it was ready within an hour and a half, she said. Shortly after, she was on her way back home to continue gathering her belongings.

LaPlace resident Heather James said with so much damage in the area, the ability to do some laundry “is awesome.” While she lost the roof of her house, she’s been trying to update as many locals as she can about the resources that are available.

“Everybody has been asking when they’ll be here,” James said. “It helps, especially being 100 degrees outside and no water.”

James is the mother of a 4-year-old and 6-year-old. She said it’s difficult for them to understand “why things are this way.”

“We’ve been helping everyone else but we need to help ourselves, too,” she added.

LaPlace resident Nichole Williams didn’t make it before capacity was reached at noon. But she vowed to be in the line early Sunday morning to have her laundry taken care of.

“It is a blessing,” Williams said. “You never think something like this is available at a time like this. I’m so appreciative. Just to have clean clothes while we’re cleaning is perfect.”

A few hundred feet away is a Verizon trailer, which is offering free Wi-Fi and charging stations for devices. Ryan Herd from New Jersey is part of Verizon’s Emergency Response Team and said another trailer is set up in Hammond, with a third to be deployed soon.

“It’s the little things,” Herd said. “Whatever it takes to help.”

But Herd finds himself in a situation similar to many of the people he’s assisting. He said Hurricane Ida hit his home as well, resulting in a hole in the roof and water throughout the home. For that reason, he’ll soon return home to begin his recovery efforts.

Barry Cummins, who works at a local plant, said being able to connect to Wi-Fi “makes a difference” for him.

Though the Verizon trailer operates 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Herd said the Wi-Fi is accessible 24 hours a day for anyone who needs it, which may be helpful when it comes to getting in touch with insurance providers. The network name and password is posted for everyone to see.

For more information about the Tide “Loads of Hope” initiative, Karnes recommends visiting M25M.org or the Tide Facebook page.