The 55-year-old died in March of natural causes, but for members of Thousand Oaks’ Anthem Church, his memory lives on in the Laundry Love ministry he helped bring to the Conejo Valley three years ago.
Laundry Love is a nationwide movement that started in Ventura over a decade ago. It enlists individuals, groups and laundromats to care for the poor and vulnerable across the U.S.
Participants believe that by providing people a place to wash their clothes, they can help restore their dignity and—in the case of the homeless—increase the likelihood they can get a job and find housing.
Since 2014, members of Anthem have gone to Launderland the second and fourth Wednesdays of each month armed with rolls of quarters.
Helping someone tends to lead to a conversation, which tends to lead to opportunities to help the person further, said Carly O’Connor, who spearheads Laundry Love at Anthem.
The 25-year-old said meeting Florez, who frequented the Trader Joe’s shopping center where she works, inspired her to start the ministry.
“That was his spot,” she said. “Meeting him and seeing his need kicked me into wanting to start something.”
Florez was a fixture in Anthem’s congregation for the three years leading up to his death. But despite his lack of funds, O’Connor said, Florez insisted on contributing to the laundry effort, even using his food stamps to buy snacks for those who attended Laundry Love nights.
“We never did his laundry,” she said. “He always served.”
Ryan Hinkle is a pastor at Anthem. When his congregation decided to take on the ministry, he said, members decided it needed to be focused on building relationships. It’s about learning people’s names and getting to know their hearts, not about fishing for converts, he said.
“Some people evangelize on the street corner,” the pastor said. “We prefer to get to know people so we can walk with them through the joys and sorrows of life.”
Hinkle’s major contribution to the Laundry Love ministry is baby-sitting. He typically watches his two sons so his wife, Tricia, can be there on a regular basis. She said it’s something she looks forward to.
“The laundromat feels alive on those nights,” she said.
Since the ministry launched, Tricia Hinkle said, it’s given the congregation an opportunity to help the people they meet at Laundry Love outside the walls of the laundromat. A few months ago, members helped a single father furnish a modest apartment to share with his teenage son.
“This is a tangible way to show God’s love,” she said. “It’s not just a service project. We have 30 minutes during the wash cycle to touch someone’s heart.”