Today’s recipe isn’t edible, but this piece does offer food for thought. In 2011, when I was as director of communications for Lutheran Social Services of Michigan, I learned that many of the people with special needs our organization was helping were in serious financial straits. They received a monthly stipend from the state that enabled them to live independently, but after paying for rent, utilities and food, many lacked the funds to buy basic household cleaning supplies. Enter Linda Maday and Tammy Hynes.
A few years ago, Linda Maday saw a recipe in the Bay City (Michigan) Times for homemade laundry detergent. She tried it. She and her family liked it. The detergent was easy enough to make. It was organic, additive-free, low-sudsing and good for sensitive skin. It cost only about $1.20 to make two gallons of detergent, a fraction of the cost of store-bought detergent, even at Costco. Maday, a retired social worker for the state Department of Human Services, has been using the recipe ever since.
Tammy Hynes is Lutheran Social Services’ director of In-Home Services programs in mid-Michigan. She works with seniors and people with disabilities on fixed incomes. By providing various services, her staff helps these clients stay in their own homes rather than moving into an adult foster care home or nursing home. Some clients have very limited funds and are unable to buy basic cleaning supplies. So Hynes set up a Cleaning Closet in her office. The closet is filled with donated paper towels, laundry soap, bathroom cleaner, glass cleaner, sponges, mops, brooms—even vacuum cleaners.
Maday lives in Essexville, Mich., with her husband, Gary, and toy poodle, Cubby. Her two sons are grown and gone. She read about the Cleaning Closet in her church bulletin and decided making detergent was something she could easily do to help people who are less fortunate. She made a double batch of laundry detergent, poured it into clean half-gallon milk jugs, and labeled each bottle with a sticker explaining how to use it. A few days later, she met Hynes in the parking lot of a Meijer super-store between her home and the Lutheran Social Services office in Midland and delivered 16 bottles of detergent for Hynes’s clients. Then she started collecting plastic bottles to make another batch.
My husband and I have been making this recipe ourselves for several years. You need a bucket large enough to hold two gallons, a large wooden spoon, a food grater and a funnel to pour the detergent into bottles. You may not be able to find all the ingredients in your local supermarket, but you can probably find them in a hardware store. Don’t be afraid to grate the soap on your regular kitchen food grater or to cook the detergent in a regular saucepan; it’s just soap, and it will wash right off. Use it for your own laundry, and if you have time, make extra to donate to a program like Lutheran Social Services or to a homeless shelter or subsidized housing center. Congregations and social groups might want to take this on as a fairly easy service project.