For decades, mobile libraries have brought books into the lives of those who would otherwise go without. Meals on Wheels has helped feed those who cannot cook for themselves. What no one had thought of was creating a mobile laundry to wash the clothes of the homeless. That was until September 2014 when best mates Nic Marchesi and Lucas Patchett, both 21, decided to give it a go.
"We wanted to improve the hygiene standards of the homeless, so we came up with this crazy idea of building a free mobile laundry," Marchesi said last year.
It started small. The Brisbane boys took an old van nicknamed Sudsy, fitted it out with a generator, water tanks and two large washing machines and driers. Then they started driving around town offering to clean the clothes of those sleeping rough. Often they would park their laundry near food vans and free barbecues, allowing the homeless to have their clothes washed while waiting for a feed.
The $5 to $6 it costs to use a laundromat can be a big cost for those without a roof over their heads. The mobile laundry was a simple idea whose time had come.
Armed with enthusiasm to make a practical difference and strong social media skills, Marchesi and Patchett quickly expanded the service to Melbourne, Sydney and the Gold Coast. Their charity Orange Sky Laundry – named after one of their favourite songs – now operates in 36 locations and washes 350 loads each week. Over 270 volunteers have joined up, and governments and local businesses have come on board to make the charity more sustainable.
Marchesi and Patchett have now been honoured with the title of Young Australians of the Year to recognise their work to boost the respect and improve the health standards of homeless Australians.
Last year, they expanded their mobile laundry service to natural disaster relief by travelling to North Queensland to wash the clothes of residents affected by Cyclone Marcia. This year they want to keep opening in new locations across the country, giving more Australians access to something many of us take for granted: clean clothes.
Accepting the award, Mr Patchett said the laundry service began as a simple idea: "clean clothes and conversation".
"But after 70,000 kilos of washing ... we realised it is so much more. We can restore respect, raise health standards and be a catalyst for conversation.
"We have found a way to treat others how they want to be treated."
Mr Marchesi said that last week, he met homeless man Grant, and washed his clothes for the first time.
"As I passed Grant's laundry back to him, he told me something I'll never forget. He said, 'Nic, I haven't been able to have a conversation with anyone for over three days'."