When my 9 month old daughter needs her diaper changed, I change it.
She’s squirmy and shockingly fast, so it often involves me chasing her down the hall, her crawling as fast as she can, grinning, with her diaper dangling halfway on. There’s always a big stack of diapers in her nursery, and I don’t think twice to throw a large box of Seventh Generation diapers (chlorine-free, to ease my disposable diaper guilt) in the Target shopping cart.
And for all of this I am truly thankful.
The cost to cover bottoms
As essential as diapers are to my daughter – and by extension, to everyone in our household – I don’t think about them much. I am fortunate that I don’t have to. But the one in three families in North Carolina that don’t have enough money to provide clean diapers for their children are dealing with guilt, frustration, and stress added to the already difficult job of parenting.
I visited with Michelle Old, Executive Director of the NC Diaper Bank, and she told me about a mom who recently found their undisclosed warehouse location and came asking for help.
Michelle said, “She was in her work uniform. She had traveled over an hour by bus to get here. She showed me the napkins and pieces of saran wrap she’d gotten from work that she’d been fashioning into diapers for her baby.”
Put yourself in that mom’s shoes for a moment.
Food stamps and other government programs don’t cover diapers, which can cost several hundred dollars a year. When forced to choose between food and diapers, diapers lose. And the babies suffer. When left in the same diaper all day, those babies endure painful diaper rashes. And their parents endure heartbreak and humiliation.
Michelle paused, still thinking about the woman with the saran wrap. “She was strong. I want to make sure people know how strong she was.”
A mother’s dream
Michelle, mom of three, a former social worker and one of the most passionate people I’ve ever met, had the idea of starting the diaper bank a few years back. She and her husband were fostering a newborn baby boy, whom they have since adopted.
“We got a call saying a day-old baby needed a home, and of course we said yes,” she said, smiling, as if it were the obvious choice anyone would make.
“He ended up getting severe diaper rashes, no matter what we did to prevent it. It was so bad that he’d be hospitalized several times a month and would require IV fluids to allow his body to heal. I changed his diaper all the time. Twenty times a day. I kept thinking, what if I didn’t have that next diaper to grab, and didn’t have a way of getting another one?”
Michelle said, “I came home after one of those hospitalizations and told my husband that I wanted to start a diaper bank.” Her goal: provide 50,000 diapers to families in need in the first year.
That first year they distributed more than 209,000 diapers with the help of 100 volunteers.
By its recent second year anniversary, more than half a million diapers have gone to families in need, with about 60,000 being distributed monthly through three branches – the main branch in Durham, one in Winston-Salem, and one in Wilmington.
The diapers are distributed through partner organizations, like Durham’s Urban Ministries that receives more than half of the diapers. These community partners connect people to other vital services like food, clothing, medical care and shelter.
“A lot of these parents spend an hour and a half on a bus to wait in line for a pack of 25 diapers,” Michelle noted. They can receive up to two packs of diapers per month. Ninety percent of these folks are working, some at two jobs. They are trying their best for their children.
A growing mission
Babies and toddlers aren’t the only ones who benefit from the diaper bank. One of their biggest needs is for large sized pull-ups for special needs children, and for older children who were potty trained but have regressed due to a stressful situation, such as homelessness. The bank also offers cloth diapers, adult diapers and feminine hygiene products.
More offerings are on the way, including potty training classes – not to encourage getting out of diapers too soon, but instead to educate parents on the best methods of toilet training and set them up for success. The diaper bank will provide transportation to the class, child care during the class, and pull-ups and a plastic potty to take home.
And after hearing from local middle school teachers that some girls were missing school every month, and the likelihood that it was from lack of available feminine hygiene products, the diaper bank has started a program in Durham Public Schools to provide these products.
“It’s evolving,” Michelle said about the diaper bank and its services. “We want to continue to find out where the gaps are, and how to fill in those gaps.”
They are also growing and moving into a new, larger warehouse soon. Michelle hopes to offer services in all 100 NC counties eventually.
I asked Michelle what is one of the most rewarding parts of her job, and she said this word: “Community.”
She elaborated, “Every time people come in here to volunteer, I see the generosity of this community. I get to witness that. This is what I truly imagined when I was sitting in the hospital room with my son, and came up with the idea of having a diaper bank.”
Michelle credits her family – her husband and three kids – as her inspiration and strength. “They gave me the space to do this. They believe in me.”
We do, too.
Ways you can help
- Donate funds. The diaper bank can buy in bulk, making your dollars stretch further.
- Drop off diapers to a local hotspot. Have half a bag of unused diapers your baby outgrew? No problem, the diaper bank will take them.
- Host a diaper drive, or a drive for feminine products. Have a neighborhood book club or mom’s group? A drive is a perfect way for a group to give back.
- Volunteer! Sorting and packing diapers is a group effort and can be a fun team-building activity.
Speaking of volunteers, here’s a few pictures of ours in action a few months ago.