‘Latter-day Saint Showers’ offering dignity to Riverside’s homeless population

Members of the Riverside California Stake could conjure up a quick list of “Things I’m looking forward to doing when the pandemic ends” items that would likely be familiar to Latter-day Saints worldwide.

A few would include worshipping with fellow members and friends, shoulder to shoulder, in a capacity-filled meetinghouse and enjoying a traditional ward dinner, Church ball game or a youth encampment sans COVID-19 social distancing guidelines.

As for Riverside stake members, they are also eager to return to serving in “Latter-day Saint Showers” — a Church-sponsored service project that provides showers to homeless people in their community.

Consider the dignity lost when someone does not have access to a frequent shower or bath. For centuries, people have recited the phrase “Cleanliness is next to godliness.” 

It’s a reminder of the value of spiritual and physical hygiene.

“We want to give dignity to some of these individuals that will take the help,” said John Plocher, director of the Riverside California Stake Communications Committee and a key organizer of “Latter-day Showers.”

New partners, new friends

A few years ago, the Riverside stake began partnering with the local Calvary Presbyterian Church to provide several hundred hot meals every Sunday evening for homeless people and others in need. A fledgling association between two different faith congregations soon evolved into a friendship anchored by trust and Christian service.

Plocher later came across a news article about an organization in the eastern United States that fabricated portable showers for people who were homeless. He reached out to the organization, collected the details and got to work.

The stake’s first task was raising the money to construct a portable shower trailer and purchase a truck large enough to haul it around town. 

“We had some really good folks in our community come forward and put up the money. I think we raised about $140,000,” said Plocher. “We ordered the trailer, the truck, and off we went.”

The portable shower trailer is fully self-contained, meets Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) standards and is equipped with generators and hot-water heaters. 

Prior to the pandemic, "Latter-day Saint Showers" volunteers gathered frequently to serve homeless people in their Riverside, California, community.
Prior to the pandemic, “Latter-day Saint Showers” volunteers gathered frequently to serve homeless people in their Riverside, California, community. Credit: Photo courtesy of John Plocher

Plocher emphasized the ongoing cooperation between the Latter-day Saints and their partners was pivotal. The Calvary Presbyterian leaders volunteered their church parking lot already being used for the weekly hot meals as the venue for the portable showers, along with the water and electricity.

In 2019, “Latter-day Saint Showers” was initiated. It is a team effort. Between each private shower session, volunteer crews scrub down the portable stalls so each participant can wash up in a sparkling, santitized facility. 

Everyone who takes showers is provided a clean change of donated new clothing and a hygiene kit. They are also offered a copy of the Bible and the Book of Mormon.

Many arrive for their shower with a beloved dog. So volunteers also even offer “puppy-sitting” services.

Spiritually cleansed

For many from the Riverside homeless population, having access to the portable shower means “a refreshing, nice start to the week,” said Plocher. “We get them showered up and dressed up nicely.”

It’s not unusual to see people in tears as they step from the portable trailer, he added, “because they haven’t had a warm, private shower in so long.”

“Latter-day Saint Showers” co-organizer John Plocher, left, with a friend at a service project event in Riverside, California, prior to the 2020 pandemic.
“Latter-day Saint Showers” co-organizer John Plocher, left, with a friend at a service project event in Riverside, California, prior to the 2020 pandemic. Credit: Photo courtesy of John Plocher

Some stay long after they shower and eat — sitting on chairs and socializing with old and new friends. “We’ve encouraged our people to sit down and get to know these people and their stories,” said Plocher.

The paradox of gospel service is revealed each time “Latter-day Showers” is in session. The volunteers laboring to lift others — including a dependable cadre of Latter-day Saint youth —  find themselves uplifted and spiritually cleansed. “Our folks gain more satisfaction by helping these people in need than any other way you could imagine.”

Sadly, “Latter-day Showers” has been on hold over the past several months in adherence to local public health directives during the ongoing pandemic. “I would imagine that we will be able to open up again in the next three or four months, depending upon how the virus goes,” said Plocher.

Riverside California Stake President Joseph Caldwell said “Latter-day Saint Showers” demonstrates the potential of Church members seeking opportunities to partner with others in doing good.

“It’s been wonderful to work with others in our communities and foster good relationships,” he said.

President Caldwell’s enthusiasm is shared across religious lines.

“It’s wonderful to see … the [shower] trailer,” wrote Calvary Presbyterian Church co-pastor, the Reverend Erin Thomas. “Thanks for the dedication of your people. … We value your faithful service.”