With one machine, a few hundred cups of detergent and a few more buckets of water, the Washing Machine Project cleaned hundreds of loads of clothes for people experiencing homelessness on Lancaster Avenue.

The nonprofit provides displaced and low-income communities with an accessible, off-grid washing solution. And it was one organization featured at a giving fair that Allied Electronics & Automation hosted Jan. 18 to raise awareness to The Washing Machine Project and other nonprofits from the Dallas-Fort Worth area. 

About 100 attendees had the opportunity to learn about the organizations’ causes and decide which ones they want to dedicate their paid volunteer hours to helping. Other groups featured included Community Enrichment Center, 6 Stones, Journey to Dream, Community Storehouse, and Community Link

Allied Electronics’ parent company, RS Group, gives all its employees two paid volunteer days a year. Employees decide the organization for which they volunteer.

Volunteering is a key part of the company’s mission, said Katie Cartwright, a vice president of people and culture for RS Group.

“We want to think about purpose, it’s more than just coming to work every day,” Cartwright said. “Volunteer days really give our people the opportunity to feel that purpose and the difference they can make.”

Nav Sawhney, the Washing Machine Project’s founder and CEO, was the fair’s keynote speaker. He told attendees how they can contribute to the cause, and provided a hands-on learning experience with the manual washing machine his organization created.

The manually operated machine looks like a smaller, wider spin-dryer, but with a rotating handle attached to the top used to spin the clothes inside. The operator adds a cup of detergent, a couple buckets of water, and then spins the handle 300 times. Out come clean, wet clothes.

“Everyone knows how it feels to wear dirty clothes,” Sawhney said. “Everyone deserves the dignity of clean clothes.”

Not everyone has that privilege.

Almost 85% of American households own, or have access to, an electric washing machine, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Within Texas, that number falls closer to 81%.

But, for households that don’t have access, hand washing clothes can be an exhausting task, according to research by The Washing Machine Project. Limited access also disproportionately affects the well-being and livelihood of women worldwide, according to the nonprofit. One of the project’s goals is to empower women and girls with the time to take charge of their lives. 

Sawhney told the audience of the project’s catalyst: an Indian woman and mother named Divya, whom he met on a volunteer mission.

“Divya became my best friend,” Sawhney said. “Divya’s life was an everyday struggle, so I promised Divya to make her life just a bit better by making her a brand new washing machine.” 

Sawhney’s friend Divya, the machine’s namesake, lost hours every day to handwashing clothes.

“And that’s how the Washing Machine Project was started,” Sawhney said. 

Sawhney helped wash people’s clothes Jan. 12 on Lancaster Avenue. He saw how clean clothes are a luxury for so many Fort Worth homeless. That scene reminded him of why his project is focused on addressing the issue of homelessness, throughout the Dallas-Fort Worth area.

“This is not just a foreign issue,” Sawhney said. “This is happening in our own backyard in Fort Worth.”

Matthew Sgroi is a reporting fellow for the Fort Worth Report. Contact him at matthew.sgroi@fortworthreport.org. At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.

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Matthew Sgroi

Matthew Sgroi

Matthew Sgroi is the 2022-23 Fort Worth Report multimedia fellow. He can be reached at matthew.sgroi@fortworthreport.com or (503)-828-4063. Sgroi is a current senior at Texas Christian University, majoring...