Gulfport Laundry Plant Finds Dirty Linens To Clean

There was a time not too long ago when Felicia Lee wondered if she'd ever put a wet linen in a folding machine again. That fear disappeared when she got a call to return to work.

"It's very important," she said between folds. "I know that tomorrow we will have a meal."

Right after Katrina, cleaning, drying and folding sheets seemed impossible. The hurricane virtually washed away the guts of Gulf Coast Laundry Services. David Gross lost his home and part of his plant.

"The mindset was that everything was just gone," he said. "There really was nothing to go back to." And to make matters worse, "We had lost all of our customers."

Every hotel and casino in Gulfport, Biloxi, and New Orleans that had linens cleaned at the Seaway Road plant was temporarily out of business. Gross had a choice, shut down his operation, or find new clients.

"We had decided that by going to take more than Hurricane Katrina to knock us out of business," he said. "And we set about our plan to get the plant back up and running, because we knew there was dirty laundry out there. We didn't know where it was. But we knew there was dirty laundry out there."

He found it at hospitals. Gross made a few phone calls and picked up six new clients. Hospital linens suddenly make up 60% of what Octavia Ellis cleans and folds.

"It means so much, because we need the income," Ellis said.

The plant brought back all but five of its senior staff members. The 80 employees work fewer shifts, and clean fewer sheets. At least Mrs. Ellis has a job.

"We're blessed to have one, because there are so many that don't," she said

Before the hurricane, Gulf Coast Laundry Services operated two shifts a day, seven days a week. Right now, it only has enough work for one shift to work six days a week.

Immediately after the storm, Gross bought several trailers and parked them outside his plant. And he let displaced employees move into them until they could get back on their feet.