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Charity: Mike Chang of Newhall’s Wayman Cleaners makes a difference

Posted: November 13, 2010 8:30 p.m.
Updated: November 14, 2010 4:55 a.m.

Mike Chang of Wayman Cleaners sorts through David Veal’s clothing donation. Chang accepts clothes donations for those who may need them at his Newhall store.

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As a young boy growing up in Seoul, South Korea, Mike Chang gratefully accepted cornbread provided by the United States government and charitable organizations. 

“My country was very poor. I was really happy to receive this food. America was the best country in the world,” he said. “But now, I find there are a lot of poor people here.”

Wayman Cleaners
Chang, the owner of Wayman Cleaners in Newhall, is giving back to his adopted country by donating clothes to the homeless and needy. Every Saturday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., the public is invited to select clothing, purses, hats, gloves and shoes from racks located directly outside his store.

The items are donated by customers or Santa Clarita Valley residents such as David Veal, who stumbled upon Chang’s clothing program after dining at Cathy’s Deli, located in the same shopping center.

“I saw a sign for free clothing and was curious. I asked Mike about it, and when he told me what he was doing, I thought it was wonderful,” Veal said. “He told me he receives no tax deduction, it’s just his genuine desire to help. He’s giving from the heart, and that’s a very nice thing.”

The American dream
Chang and his wife, Michelle, immigrated from South Korea with their children Yoon and Soo nearly 11 years ago, sponsored by his parents, who were already citizens.

In his home country, Chang was an engineer and worked for Hyundai as an assistant general manager in the maintenance department. After arriving in Los Angeles, Chang landed an engineering job and started an import business.

The Changs purchased Wayman Cleaners in 2007 after learning about the opportunity from a friend.

“I had no experience with dry cleaning, but I knew a lot about machinery and chemicals,” Chang said.

Hard times
While business initially boomed for the Changs, the last few years haven’t been as successful.

“Now (business) is slow. There are several reasons, such as the bad economy. Many of my customers have left the area,” Chang said.

With profits down, the Changs lost their SCV home and moved to a two-bedroom apartment in Saugus in 2009.

In August of the same year, Chang had an idea. He had been looking for a way to help others ever since he came to America.

“In this economy, some people, a lot of people, need clothing. There are several places in the SCV where there are homeless people,” Chang said. “I don’t have money, I lost a lot, but this was one way I could help people. I think this is my mission.”

A mission
To make sure he wasn’t doing anything illegal by collecting and distributing donated clothing, Chang first checked with the SCV Sheriff’s Station. Once it was confirmed it was legal to proceed, Chang started asking customers to bring in unwanted items and initiated clothing drives through churches and schools.

He had two simple requests — that donated items be in good condition and laundered. Chang learned to ask for the latter the hard way.

“Before, I cleaned all the clothing, but then my electric bill got much higher, from $300 to $400 a month to $900 to $1,400 a month. I could not afford it,” he said. “If the clothes are really dirty I clean them, but normally, people bring the clothes clean. If there are too many wrinkles, I press the clothes.”

One customer donated a sign that hangs above the cash register. Another donated custom-built racks to display the clothing.

The Chang children passed out flyers at school and to neighbors. A sandwich-board sign was placed on the sidewalk near Wayman Cleaners.

Good results came quickly. Canyon High School hosted a clothing drive that yielded 2,600 items in November 2009.

Every single piece was given away shortly thereafter, either through distribution to churches and homeless shelters or through individuals taking what they wanted from the store.

“More than 300 people came to get clothing. Some came with shopping carts,” Chang said. “One of them gave me a six-pack of water, and I started crying. They were very poor but they gave me water. I gave it back, but I was really happy to see their mood.”

The need
Veal wanted to help out and recently started handing out his own flyers during art walks held the third Thursday every month in Newhall. He recently dropped off a bag of nice women’s clothing to Chang that were donated by a neighbor.

Even though the SCV has a reputation for affluence, Veal isn’t surprised at the popularity of Chang’s free clothing.

“People are losing their homes and many other things, people are living in their cars,” he said. “I see people going to food pantries. There are a lot of people in need.”

Distributing clothes to those who need it most weighs heavily on Chang. “Some people don’t have cars. I don’t know how to help them,” he said. “In the United States, there should not be homeless people. It’s very sad.”

Chang would like to expand both incoming and outgoing donations, which he keeps tally of each day on a simple paper register. An increase in customers at Wayman Cleaners would also help Chang continue his mission.

“I would like to wash and dry clean clothes for poor people. If I get more business, I will do that,” he said.

Where the clothes go
The 80 men housed at Bible Tabernacle in Canyon Country usually come into the church with little — to nothing — to their name. Bible Tabernacle’s six-month rehabilitation program offers these men, some in the clutches of drug or alcohol addiction, a way to stay off the street and contribute by working at the church.

According to office manager Wesley Russell, Chang’s donations are a great help. The clothing is picked up from Wayman Cleaners by a member of the staff and handed out via a donations trailer located on campus.

“One of our men, when he came off the street, all he had was his backpack and medications, so the stuff we get from the cleaners is a real blessing to the people who get it. It’s quality stuff, too,” Russell said.

Women and children’s clothing from Wayman Cleaners is given to Bible Tabernacle’s Venice ministries, Russell said.

Where the clothes end up is of no matter to Chang. It’s who’s wearing the clothes that matters.

“If possible, I like to help people. I feel good in my heart when I give out clothing,” he said with a smile.

Wayman Cleaners accepts clothing donations Monday – Saturday, from 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Items should be laundered and in good condition. The public is welcome to select free clothing from Wayman Cleaners every Saturday, from 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. Wayman Cleaners. 23120 Lyons Ave., Suite 105, Newhall. (661) 259-5857.

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