Toronto laundromat owner offers free service to those in need amid the pandemic

Nancy Seto has initiated an online fund-raising campaign to help people struggling financially in this pandemic by offering free service at her laundromat.

Nancy Seto mounts online fundraising campaign to help people in poverty clean their clothes

Nancy Seto, who co-owns Yummi Cafe Laundromat in Toronto, is pictured on March 11, 2021. Seto and her husband organized a program to help cover the costs of doing laundry for those hardest-hit by the COVID-19 pandemic. (EVAN MITSUI)

A Toronto laundromat owner has raised more than $1,000 to help those struggling with the cost of cleaning their clothes during the pandemic — something she says is more common than many might think.

Nancy Seto didn't realize just how big an impact the pandemic was having until she spoke to a man washing his clothes at her Yummi Cafe Laundromat near Dufferin Street and St. Clair Avenue. When she asked the customer why he wasn't drying his large pile of clothes, the man told her he had to choose between using the dryer and buying milk for his kids. 

"I felt so bad that I offered to cover the cost," Seto told CBC Toronto.

Then, she went further, setting up an online fundraiser to help those dealing with the same struggle, with the goal of eventually expanding to more GTA laundromats. 

Nancy Seto's laundromat offers free services on Monday, Wednesday and Friday of each week. ( Nancy Seto)

While food banks are common, help for people dealing with poverty clean their clothes is harder to come by. But advocates say this type of support is also crucial to ensuring people's wellbeing.

Jennifer Evans, an advocate for people experiencing homelessness, says access to clean clothes is critical to self-esteem.

"It's very hard to feel dignified if you're not wearing clean clothes and you don't have a way to get your clothing clean," she said. 

As word spread through social media and word of mouth, more people came to see Seto at the Yummi Cafe Laundromat, including a mom with a toddler and baby at home.

At first, the woman didn't bring her clothes, not sure if the offer was real, and Seto sent her home to gather everything she needed clean.

"The woman shared that with the ongoing pandemic it had been a very hard time for her family," Seto said. 

 "Each week, she would eliminate something off of the grocery list in order to pay for her baby's diapers."

Nancy Seto says she has received an overwhelming support in the community for her initiative. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Seto's offer of free laundry comes with no questions asked.

"I'm of the opinion that it takes enough courage for someone to actually come up to us and ask for help, because it's not an easy thing to do. We don't expect anyone to have to prove to us that they're in financial need."

A man who would only identify himself to CBC News as Baz was one of the first customers to try the free-laundry program..The artist and single father of three says the service is a blessing because the pandemic has hit his industry hard and has disrupted life at home.

"These days, the kids are in the house a lot more than before and there tends to be a bigger pile of clothes. It is a busy task and can be rather challenging. I was surprised to receive such generosity."

While trying to help those in need, Seto confesses that her own business has been slow.

"Customers that would come once a week to the laundromat now come once in a few weeks, because they don't really have laundry," she said

But she's hopeful that her initiative will ignite the community's spirit.

"At the end of the day, when you look at what this pandemic has done, it brings awareness to all of our business members that it impacts everyone."