As the Orange Sky volunteers begin setting up their van for a busy morning of washing clothes, there’s plenty of hellos and high fives going round as those who rely on this free mobile laundry service come and fill up the baskets.
It’s a Tuesday morning and the van is parked outside the Breakfast Club in Redcliffe – one of the four locations Orange Sky vans visit each week in the Moreton Bay Region.
It’s first in best dressed to use the washing machines and dryers, with each load taking an hour to complete.
While they wait, the clients, who are more commonly referred to as ‘friends’, chat amongst themselves and the volunteers, or patiently wait their turn to have a hot shower in the back of the van.
According to Orange Sky Co-Founder and Chief Executive Officer Lucas Pratchett, the service is a godsend to the thousands of people who are homeless, living on the streets, sleeping in their cars, couch surfing, squatting, living in improvised dwellings, or just doing it tough in general.
“Since launching our services in Redcliffe and Caboolture, we have operated more than 395 shifts, completed more than 1,319 loads of washing, provided more than 393 hot showers and engaged in more than 5,433 hours of genuine, non-judgemental conversation,” he says.
“We know our services are heavily used and valued by our friends in the Moreton Bay Region so it’s extremely important that we continue to operate in the area and provide a reliable and safe environment to those in need to access free laundry and a space for connection.”
Orange Sky Australia is the world’s first free mobile laundry service for people experiencing homelessness – an idea founded in a Brisbane garage by two 20-year-old mates, Nic Marchesi and Lucas Patchett.
In late 2014, the boys installed a couple of washing machines and dryers in the back of their old van and visited parks around Brisbane to wash and dry clothes for free. What started as an idea to improve hygiene standards and restore dignity to people doing it tough has evolved into something much bigger and more powerful.
Orange Sky first launched in Redcliffe in October 2014, and then started operating in Caboolture in March 2017.
With so many people relying on this vital service, the not-for-profit organisation sometimes needs a helping hand themselves.
Lucas says they would love to recruit some new faces to come and help them with their shifts and make a positive difference to people’s lives.
“We wouldn't be able to do what we do without volunteers. Our volunteers have one of the most important jobs at Orange Sky - they provide a space for connection and friendship to people who feel forgotten or disconnected from their community,” Lucas says.
“It might sound simple, but we’ve seen first-hand how a positive connection can impact a person’s life.
“In the hour that it takes to do a load of laundry, we sit down on our six orange chairs and have a chat – it’s a simple opportunity for everyday Australians to give back to their community and to support those in need.
“If you’re interested in volunteering with Orange Sky, head to our website (orangesky.org.au) to enquire.
“If successful, you will receive an email from us with shift vacancies in your area. When you find an available shift that is right for you, we will provide you with documentation and training that is required before joining a team.
“We ask our volunteers to make a six-month commitment on a regular shift either weekly or fortnightly.
“Our organisation seeks to positively connect communities through conversation and building relationships, so having consistent volunteers on shift is essential to the operation of our services.”
Andrew Leese is one Orange Sky volunteer who is helping to change people’s lives one wash at a time.
Andrew (pictured above on the left hand side) can often be found at the Breakfast Club for his regular Tuesday morning shift.
To Andrew, giving up his time to help is community is easy.
“I have been volunteering with Orange Sky now for more than nine months,” he says.
“I was aware of Orange Sky through my previous work with Oz Harvest, and I saw the wonderful work they were doing, particularly in the inner city.
“We had some common clients, or friends that we worked with, and I wanted to do some new volunteering that I thought would be impactful and a positive influence on the community, so I came here.
“I have always been in the human services aspect, and Orange Sky seemed to fit the bill for me where you could actually relate to people and also make a difference - it’s all about the connections you make.”
Through his role, Andrew loves meeting new people and hearing their personal stories.
“We have had some new friends come along since I started and a lot of them were feeling alienated and disconnected from the community,” Andrew says.
“Over a few visits, some of those people who might not be so talkative start opening up a little bit and you find the common interest, and they then feel like they are part of the community because someone is listening to them.
“It really is as simple as that. You find each time a friend comes, if they are friends that you know, they will tend to talk to you a little more and share a little more information. We don’t pry. We are there to listen and be supportive.”
And what would be his message to encourage others to sign up to become a volunteer?
“I love volunteering because I really get so much out of it, and so will you,” he says.
“I always say to people, volunteering can make you feel better about your life, be more grateful, feel more blessed, and makes you realise that your own life isn’t that bad.
“A lot of people look at the negatives in their life, so when you talk to other people and see life from their perspective, and give them a helping hand, it sort of supercharges the way you think.
“So go and dip your toes in and experience volunteering for yourself and see what a difference you can make to someone else and your community.”
The shifts Orange Sky operate in Moreton Bay include:
If you or someone you know needs to access an Orange Sky van in other parts of the state, you can visit their website to find an interactive map of service locations. You can access the map here.