Change Maker bringing dignity to NZ’s homeless community with showers, washing and conversation

  • 22/11/2020
  • Sponsored by - Dell

Brightly coloured orange vans first hit Kiwi streets two years ago, and they’ve been making an impact ever since.

Since Orange Sky began two years ago Orange Sky has provided more than 4,800 washes, 3,800 showers and 5,400 hours of conversation and has over 124 volunteers. 

And this is thanks to Eddie Uini - the Kiwi who started Orange Sky’s free mobile laundry and shower service in New Zealand.

"The first thing people do is pull up a chair and chat to us, while they’re getting their washing done," Eddie says.

"While the washing machines and shower are a big appeal, it’s more about the connection and the chairs. We’re finding people seek a connection and conversation."

Dell and The Project are recognising New Zealanders who have made a positive social impact in the community through the Change Maker campaign. Eddie is honoured to have non-profit organisation Orange Sky recognised by Dell.

Eddie previously helped South Auckland’s homeless wash their clothes by partnering with a laundromat in Manurewa. He managed to fundraise almost $50,000 personally for this project, before joining Orange Sky as their sole New Zealand employee and operator. 

For Eddie, and his helpers, one of the main priorities is to connect with users through genuine, non-judgemental conversation, all within the time it takes to do a load of laundry.

"The first things out of our van are six orange chairs for people to sit and talk. Awesome friendships have been forged on those chairs," Eddie says. 

Regular user Terry says, "I couldn’t imagine a life without Orange Sky now. Eddie and the volunteers have become like family and stop me feeling lonely day after day."

The operation has been so successful that it expanded to Wellington in November 2019, with a hope to expand to other locations around New Zealand soon.

Around 4000 people have already used Orange Sky’s services.
Around 4000 people have already used Orange Sky’s services. Photo credit: Orange Sky

The original idea was founded in a Brisbane garage by two 20-year-old mates, Nic Marchesi and Lucas Patchett. In late 2014, the boys installed a couple of washing machines and dryers in the back of their old van and visited parks around Brisbane to wash and dry clothes for free. 

Eddie is the eldest of five children, with a Samoan father and a mother with a mixed heritage from Germany and the United Kingdom. 

Eddie has kept this vision going in New Zealand. He is a compassionate and gentle person who spent the first 30 years of his life mentoring and looking after his siblings, and anyone else who needed help.

The Orange Sky website makes it easy for people to sign up to volunteer. Simply click through to the volunteer page and you can choose the location that best suits.

"We’ve always got a call out for more volunteers," Eddie says. "They only need to do two hours a week or fortnight. We can make it work for everyone."

Eddie with a couple of volunteers setting up the famous orange chairs
Eddie with a couple of volunteers setting up the famous orange chairs Photo credit: Orange Sky

What started as an idea to improve hygiene standards and restore dignity to people doing it tough has evolved into something much bigger and more powerful.

"Our growth has been steady and our mission remains the same," Eddie says. "I'm sure we are not alone in the challenges 2020 has brought us, and we are learning to adapt and continue to safely provide our service during these difficult times."

Eddie says during the COVID lockdown they would see more families at the vans. And while more homeless people went into accommodation and housing during the lockdowns, there are still so many real issues facing many people. 

Eddie says there are still too many people in New Zealand who don’t have access to a hot shower or clean clothes. 

His dream is a New Zealand where everyone who is doing it tough has access to a washing machine or shower, and a human conversation and connection. He can’t do that without the support from the community and one of the best ways to help is to make a simple donation 

If you know someone who goes that extra mile to support and shape a better future for their communities, nominate them here and they could be a winner of a brand new Dell XPS 13 laptop.

This article is brought to you by Dell