In the United States, seven out of 10 people with disabilities who want to work do not have jobs, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. In this region, Winona Laundry, a facility recently opened by Winona ORC (Occupational Rehabilitation Center) employs area adults with disabilities, creating 60,000 additional hours of work annually in the organization. “The clients are very excited; several of our folks have worked in laundries in our local hotels and they are very excited,” said Executive Director of Winona ORC, Judie Foster-Lupkin. “They even enjoy the training and being able to run the machines.”
Photo by Jen Burris
Krista Polus, job coach at Winona ORC, demonstrates how to use the folding machine.
The Winona Laundry's grand opening was held on Thursday, August 1. Clients at the ORC began training on the machinery when it arrived in mid-July. Gundersen Lutheran in La Crosse supplied the Winona ORC with sheets and towels to practice with during job training. “It’s nice to be able to practice with actual items,” Foster-Lupkin said. Since the machinery arrived, the ORC has been working out little glitches and mechanical bugs to make sure everything is in tiptop shape for the clients. In one year of operation, Winona Laundry will be able to process 3,000,000 pounds of laundry.
The facility is divided into two sections, dirty laundry and clean laundry. The dirty clothes are taken by cart and loaded into the washing machines. The carts are then sanitized before being moved to the other side, where they will be used for clean laundry. The ventilation systems are separate for each section as well.
The washing machines can be opened from the back on the clean laundry side — preventing contamination when transferring the laundry. The laundry is then loaded into the dryers and the larger items are run through a mechanical folding machine. According to Foster-Lupkin, items such as sheets are not put in a dryer, but run through a giant ironing machine, which is heated by gas to dry the sheets at the same time.
Workers who are unable or prefer not to operate or load and unload the machines will be able to fold washcloths, rags, and other smaller items at a table in the facility. “The variety of clients we can serve, range of skill levels is very large,” Foster-Lupkin noted.
The ORC sales staff is hoping to target health and hospitality industries for potential contracts with Winona Laundry, Foster-Lupkin explained. By the end of the year, the facility should have enough customers to began a regular schedule.
Winona laundry was made possible with $1.2 million raised by the Winona community, through business and personal donations. “We couldn’t have done it without this generosity,” Foster-Lupkin.