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East TN school washes dirty laundry for kids who can't

"They need to have clean clothes and full bellies and happy hearts so that they can come to school ready to learn."

POWELL, Tenn. — To a lot of us, doing laundry is just a chore.    

But for many Knox County families, it's something they wish they had more access to.    

Some of those families have students who go to Copper Ridge Elementary School in Powell. 

Many of those students live on old farms, in transitional housing like motels, or in campgrounds.

Their families work hard, but don't have easy access to a washer and dryer.

Their principal Jennifer Atkins saw this problem, and took action. Instead of sitting in an office on Thursday, Atkins spent part of her day in a supply closet.

"You ready to do some laundry," she asked.

In that supply-closet-turned-laundry-room, she washed her students' clothes.

"I'm all their mamas," Atkins said. "I'm mama bear, so I'm happy to do it."

This started when Atkins realized a lot of her students live in rural areas and don't have easy or affordable access to washers and dryers.

"Families are washing clothes in buckets or in the bathtub and then line-drying them," she said.

It got her thinking.

"How is doing laundry a luxury in Knox County in 2019," Atkins asked.

That question shocked a lot of her staff, like 4th grade teacher Callie West.

"Even being a teacher here, I did not know that we needed a washer and dryer for our kids until you start thinking, 'Oh wait, they don't have that,'" she said. "It's something we have. We have washers and dryers, but there are kids that don't have the opportunity."

So Atkins applied for a 'TeacherPreneur' grant through the Great Schools Partnership to buy a washer and dryer for the school.

She got the grant, got a good deal on the laundry set on Black Friday, and the machines were installed this month.

"It's kind of one of those programs that we hope we never have to use, but we already have a family that's using it right now," said Atkins.

Kids drop their clothes off at an outside location so their classmates don't see.

Volunteers, including Atkins, will do the washing.

She threw in the first load Thursday.

"I've never been so excited to do laundry in my life," said Atkins.

West is helping get donations to keep the program running, and the staff is happy to help their students shine.

"They need to have clean clothes, and full bellies, and happy hearts so that they can come to school ready to learn," said Atkins.

If other people in the community need to use their washer and dryer, Atkins hopes to be able to share it with them soon.    

The school is looking for donations for laundry detergent, dryer sheets, baskets and other laundry supplies. 

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