Young Australians of the Year wash the clothes of the homeless as Orange Sky Laundry launches in Canberra
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Young Australians of the Year wash the clothes of the homeless as Orange Sky Laundry launches in Canberra

The savoury mince is steaming and the coffee cups are tinkling as people wander into the St Benedict's Community Centre in Queanbeyan, where a free hot meal is served up five days a week for those in need.

Outside, there's a new topic of conversation - a bright orange van with soap bubbles floating out the top.

Queanbeyan local Haralg Haralg "Harry'' (seated) gets his clothes washed and dried by the Orange Sky Laundry van in Queanbeyan on Wednesday with (l-r) St Benedict's Community Centre manager Elaine Lollback, Orange Sky Laundry founders Lucas Patchett and Nic Marchesi, and centre user Sylvia Brumm.

Queanbeyan local Haralg Haralg "Harry'' (seated) gets his clothes washed and dried by the Orange Sky Laundry van in Queanbeyan on Wednesday with (l-r) St Benedict's Community Centre manager Elaine Lollback, Orange Sky Laundry founders Lucas Patchett and Nic Marchesi, and centre user Sylvia Brumm. Credit:Rohan Thomson

It's the first Orange Sky Laundry van for the Canberra region and its purpose is practical and profound.

Brisbane mates Nic Marchesi and Lucas Patchett founded Australia's first mobile washing service for the homeless in 2014.

Orange Sky Laundry founders and 2016 Young Australians of the year, Nic Marchesi and Lucas Patchett, prepare for the launch of their first Canberra van.

Orange Sky Laundry founders and 2016 Young Australians of the year, Nic Marchesi and Lucas Patchett, prepare for the launch of their first Canberra van.Credit:Rohan Thomson

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The engaging twosome, both 21, were named the 2016 Young Australians of the Year for the vision and initiative revealed by their volunteer-run venture.

Orange Sky Laundry now has nine vans across Australia serving 62 locations. The vans wash about 4.5 tonnes of clothes for the homeless weekly.

The first Canberra van will be launched in City Walk on Thursday.

Nic said the vans - built by Lucas and other volunteers - could do 20kgs of washing every hour, with washers and dryers fitted, along with generators and a stand-alone water supply.

"We're really excited to have it here to help the Canberra community," he said.

"The great thing about being on four wheels is that we can wash and dry clothes anywhere. In the next week we're going to lock down a schedule and do it everywhere from Queanbeyan to the [Canberra] city centre to drop-in centres and parks.

"And once we lock in a schedule, we'll be there the same time, same place, every week."

The idea came to the pair when Nic was working as a cameraman for Channel 7 in Brisbane and Lucas was studying mechanical engineering.

It was a simple concept that delivered a little dignity to the homeless, not only by giving the basics of clean clothes but the opportunity to sit on one of the accompanying orange chairs and talk to someone who would listen.

"We wanted to find something that us and our mates could give back to, and now we're full-time volunteers, " Lucas said.

"I think there are stereotypes around people who are young being selfish or lazy but we've found that not to be true," Nic said.

"The reason that Lucas and I are volunteers is the tremendous privilege of getting to meet new people and having the opportunity to help and inspire people."

The song Orange Sky by Alexi Murdoch "about helping your brothers and sisters" was the inspiration for the venture's name.

"We hope that one day there are people that aren't homeless and our service can be used to train and employ people who used to use our service," Nic said.

"So in five years' time , in two years' time, one year's time, whatever it is, this van might still come to this location but people who used to live on the streets will wash and dry clothes for maybe a local hotel or hospital."

Among the Queanbeyan locals using the service on Wednesday, was 53-year-old Haralg Haralg, aka "Harry", who hasn't had running water at his granny flat for three weeks after the plumbing was vandalised.

Another man, Garry Rayner, said the washing machine in the communal laundry of his public housing flat was regularly stolen.

"This is great," Harry said, of the van. "Very convenient. Very helpful. Solves a lot of problems."

Volunteers, public donations and corporate contributions help bankroll the service, with each van costing $100,000 to get up and running in the community.

The van was welcomed by St Benedict's Community Centre manager Elaine Lollback​, who said the centre was all about ensuring people had "a roof over their head, food in their tummy and someone who actually gave a toss that they exist".

"I think [the van] is a lovely idea and it's going to be nice for people to do," Mrs Lollback said. "....To have the young guys out there and helping to talk to people is an absolutely lovely thing."