PORTSMOUTH — Stacey Remillard's 10-year-old son hugged his favorite sweatshirt before school Thursday morning, an object of comfort during a tough family transition.
Remillard's daughter, 8, pointed to her jeans and said, "Mom, they're not stiff anymore."
Remillard and her children were recent recipients of a washer and dryer donation at their Gosling Meadows three-bedroom apartment. Before, she was washing clothes in a bucket and hanging them to dry on a line in the basement. Or, if there was extra money, she went to the laundromat, clothes and kids in tow.
"I'm excited to pay my electric bill," Remillard laughed. "That's nothing compared to the stress of bringing my kids to the laundromat and the time spent unable to be at home doing some of the other things I need to do."
A Portsmouth High School student's call to the community to help their neighbors at Gosling Meadows with laundry services was met over the last month with more than $4,000 in donations. Remillard was the first recipient of an appliance.
The project is part of junior Lilie Murray's Portsmouth Community Closet, a service model offering clothing-related assistance to residents in need. So far, two washer/dryer sets have been delivered, and another two washers are about to be purchased.
In November, Murray, of Rye, said it was her goal to have some of the laundry units delivered before Christmas, as "a pretty big gift." Her idea arose after a service project at Gosling Meadows last summer revealed the nearby laundromat on Woodbury Avenue had closed, and the Portsmouth Housing Authority units don't come with washers and dryers. For many residents who live in public housing, they face transportation obstacles, and the COAST bus system typically doesn't allow large bags on board.
"It was super quick," Murray said of the response from the community. "It was amazing to see the feedback from everyone who was impacted by the article. A lot of people said they had no idea this was even an issue."
Murray's teacher advisor, Portsmouth High science teacher Kimberly McGlinchey, said the generosity presented itself in the form of "$1,000 checks, $500 checks."
Students at New Franklin School did a coin drive to help Murray's cause. When a teacher gave Murray the donation, she said it "wasn't more than $50." When Murray got around to counting it, it totaled $479.
Remillard is a newly single mom who had just moved into Gosling Meadows with her kids, Balajhi and Lakshmi, when PHA staff approached her about being a candidate for Murray's fundraiser. One of Murray's goals was to focus on families with children in the Portsmouth school system.
"It's one of the highlights of my life right now," Remillard said. "I was teary-eyed on the front lawn of my house (during the delivery). When you're in a pickle and you can’t afford to go to the laundromat ... I just couldn’t bridge the gap at that moment in time. It has really helped us."
Last week, Remillard's son was given a strict dress code for his Dondero School choir performance at a University of New Hampshire sporting event; white shirt and black pants. They were dirty, Remillard said, but the evening before, she was able to easily wash them in the comfort of her own home. It's the small things like that that make the difference, she said.
"Many people just take it for granted they have a washer and dryer," Remillard said.
There are three or four more Gosling families who are in queue to receive a donation, according to Murray.
McGlinchey thanked the maintenance staff at Gosling Meadows for their assistance, and Operation Blessing for delivering the first batch.
Murray said once the washer and dryer fundraiser is completed, Portsmouth Community Closet will move on to its next venture. First, there's talk of making it a permanent club at the high school. Several people have recommended various organizations to Murray that might be able to provide funding.
She's also looking to connect with the LaundryCares Foundation, a nationwide program sending volunteers to laundromats to read to and entertain children.
"When we think of volunteer reading programs, most of us think about the library," McGlinchey said. "But in reality, these families aren't necessarily at the library. They’re at the laundromat, at the grocery store, doing what their family needs to get by."