National Diaper Need Awareness Week

This year, the National Diaper Bank Network is recognizing the week of September 10-17 as National Diaper Need Awareness Week, and local diaper banks across the country have asked their state and local officials to do the same. But more than merely declaring a week, we are acknowledging that the country is becoming more and more aware of the fact that diapers are a basic need for infants, toddlers, and those who suffer from incontinence, and that more people are willing to do something about it.

We have come very far in bringing attention to diaper need in the eight years since I began this journey in 2004. When I started The Diaper Bank in New Haven, CT there were very few diaper banks in America, so I looked to the example of the Diaper Bank of Southern Arizona, the nation’s first diaper bank. That program began in 1994 when a small consulting firm in Tucson, Arizona held a diaper drive during the holiday season to assist a local crisis nursery. Encouraged by the enthusiastic response, and seeing the great need in their community, the firm made the December Diaper Drive an annual tradition, and within five years they were collecting 300,000 diapers each December, benefiting families at 30 local social service agencies. In 2000, the diaper drive effort was spun off into an independent non-profit organization, the Diaper Bank of Southern Arizona, which continues to provide desperately needed diapers to the people of southern Arizona.

The Diaper Bank of Southern Arizona served as my inspiration in 2004 when I decided to start a diaper bank. Through my work with families in need New Haven, I learned that many of the hygiene products I took for granted, such as toilet paper, toothpaste, and diapers, were not available to people who had only food stamps to buy their groceries. The need for diapers, which are so critical for a baby’s health and comfort, was particularly acute. I started small, working out of my living room, but in a few years time, with the help of many others, what started as The New Haven Diaper Bank (now, The Diaper Bank) has grown into the nation’s largest diaper bank, distributing over 14 million diapers since its inception.

The success of these diaper banks and others inspired similar efforts throughout the country. As awareness of the problem of diaper need grew, small but passionate groups of people responded by founding diaper banks in their communities as independent organizations, through their churches, and as part of the work of existing relief agencies. There are now over 150 diaper banks in America. Many of these organizations are quite small, but the difference they make is unmistakable. Still, however, the need for diapers far outstrips their ability to satisfy it.

There are 5.7 million babies and toddlers living in low-income families who may struggle to provide diapers for their children. These children are at greater risk for severe diaper rash, dermatitis, and other health problems. For their families, a baby crying because of a wet diaper that cannot be changed adds to the stress on parents struggling to make ends meet.

The purpose of Diaper Need Awareness Week is to recognize that there are people in the United States who struggle to provide clean, dry diapers for their children, and to celebrate the fact that there are organizations like diaper banks that can help people obtain the diapers they need.

It is also to recognize the tremendous strides already made in raising awareness of the need. I recently checked the number of mentions of “diaper banks” on webpages using Google, and the amount of web activity for diaper banks by year has increased dramatically. In 2004, when I first started my diaper bank, there were only 94 mentions of “diaper bank” on webpages for the whole year. In the first eight months of this year alone, that number has increased nearly two orders of magnitude to 7800. I expect that by the end of Diaper Need Awareness Week, that number will increase even more.

Across the country, there will be diaper-need focused events that week, including local area diaper drives, discussion panels on why diapers matter, fundraising events, op-eds in their local newspapers, and proclamations by governors and mayors declaring the week “Diaper Need Awareness Week.”

We at NDBN are starting the week with a bang, holding our first ever Diaper Bank Conference in Washington, DC, where forty diaper bank leaders will gather to learn more about how to make their efforts go farther. We hope by holding the conference in Washington, that we can demonstrate that grassroots charitable action can effect change in our country, and address a need experienced in places as diverse as Chattanooga, Tennessee and Santa Monica, California, and Lewisville, North Carolina and Seattle, Washington.

Why should this matter to you? Because this group of people are working together to change their communities, their states and their country by coming together to support people in need. The more activities there are around Diaper Need Awareness Week the more people will learn about the significance of this issue.

Please consider holding a diaper drive, hosting an event, donating to you local diaper bank or donating to the National Diaper Bank Network.

 – originally published in the Huffington Post, August 22, 2012.

In Honor of Food Revolution Day

Tomorrow, May 19, is Food Revolution Day.  The basic premise is to stand up for healthy food and to share information, talents and resources and to highlight the world’s food issues.  Jamie Oliver, formerly known as the Naked Chef, now on a one-man crusade to bring healthy food to school children, is the mobilizing force behind Food Revolution Day.  But as Dr Bill Frist, the former U.S. Senator from Tennessee, notes in this thoughtful article from last February, access to healthy food is often one of the basic necessities not available to children in poverty.  More than 23 million people live in “food deserts”, which the USDA defines as any census district where at least 20 percent of the inhabitants are below the poverty line and 33 percent live over a mile from the nearest supermarket (or in rural areas, more than 10 miles).  As  Scientific America notes, there is a troubling correlation between food deserts and areas of increased incidents of diabetes and obesity. In the richest nation in the world, our children should not be without the basic necessities that will allow them to grow strong and healthy–healthy food, hygiene products like soap and diapers, and sound shelter.

Part of the problem may be that many people do not fully understand poverty in the country.  A recent poll by the Salvation Army found that most Americans do not know the poverty level, and misunderstand their neighbors in need. Surveying just over 1,000 individuals, the results revealed that while the public is sympathetic to the poverty crisis, it at times misunderstands the reasons why so many live in poverty. Indeed, the report found  that the farther removed from poverty a person is, the less common he or she believes poverty is in society.  The report also found that a majority of people believe that assistance to families in need can help set up children for success in escaping poverty, many Americans are unsure of what they can do to help others – and whether or not their assistance will actually help.

The truth is, assistance does help.  As Mark Shriver observes in this article, early intervention and early education programs can improve children’s academic success, lower obesity rates, and improve their indicators for success in life.   And private assistance helps as well.  As illustrated in this  documentary, a gift of something as elemental as diapers can help teenaged parents finish their studies, preparing them for the workforce and a life of economic self-sufficiency.  Donations to food banks can help ensure people receive the food they need to feed their families nutritious meals. And donations to diaper banks can help families ensure that their children are clean and dry.  In honor of Food Revolution Day, embrace the idea that access to basic necessities like good food and clean diapers can make a difference, and donate generously to your local food bank and diaper bank.

Diapers: They’re not just for babies

I received a call a few days ago from a woman looking for some source of assistance for her brother who suffered from incontinence and had to wear what are commonly known as adult diapers.  Our posts on this blog have tended to address the diaper need that affects babies and their families; however, many adults, particularly seniors living on limited incomes, suffer from incontinence.  Many of these people have difficulty affording adult incontinence supplies and diapers.  And their lives, and those of their families and loved ones, are adversely affected by the lack of access to incontinence supplies.

Urinary incontinence affects approximately 13 million persons in the United States, with as many as 25 million experiencing transient or ongoing incontinence.  Most of these people are older adults, many of whom may be living on limited incomes with limited buying power once medical expenses are factored in.  In addition, many disabled people are obliged to wear diapers for a variety of reasons, incontinence and inability to use a bathroom unaided among the most common.

Often, people dealing with incontinence problems are among those who have the fewest resources.  According to the Cornell University Online Resource for U.S. Disability Statistics in 2009, an estimated 26.4% percent of the population between 21 and 64 with a disability had incomes below the poverty line.  These numbers only include people with disabilities who are living independently, either alone or with family – not those who are institutionalized and have greater access to care.  According to the U.S. Census Current Population Survey in 2010 9% of adults 65 and older lived below the federal poverty line. However, using the U.S. Census Bureau’s alternative measurement of poverty, as many as 16.1% of U.S. seniors are living in poverty once medical care and other costs of living are factored in.  Elderly Americans spend on average 19% of their total income on out-of-pocket medical expenses annually. Out-of-pocket expenses include health insurance premiums, medical copayments, and prescriptions.  Once those costs are paid, however, many seniors are unable to pay for critical services.

Many insurance programs and Medicare programs will not pay for adult diapers, particularly if the incontinence is not diagnosed as a separate medical condition.  Even when it is identified as a separate condition, some state run Medicare will not pay for diapers even if they pay for other supplies.  (You can find your state’s coverage by using this link and finding Urological supplies.)

It is estimated that by 2015 one in four Americans will be over the age of 65. At a time when communities need to be building infrastructure and planning to care for our increasing aging populations, services are instead being reduced for even the lowest-income seniors.

In “A Report to the Community,” the Community Needs Assessment Process 2006–2009 Area Plan on Aging report, Pima Council on Aging, an Arizona Senior Service Agency, identified as major problem areas for their community “lack of sufficient income to meet basic needs; lack of transportation and affordable health care, including dental care; need for in-home support, including home maintenance and repair; isolation and need for advocacy. The overriding concern of seniors is to find ways in which to continue living in their own homes for as long as possible.”  According to the National Association for Continence, incontinence is the second leading reasons for institutionalization of the elderly in nursing homes and 53% of homebound older persons are incontinent.

Many diaper banks provide incontinence supplies for adults.  The supplies distributed by local diaper banks through their partner organizations are part of a larger continuum of services that not only supports older adults in remaining in their own homes, but also contributes to their dignity and quality of life. If not for a diaper bank’s monthly incontinent supply donations to their partner agencies many local community’s elderly would be unable to leave their homes to due to fear of embarrassment, and would live in compromised comfort even while at home.  Many diaper banks provide monthly incontinent supply donations to their partner agencies because the local community’s disabled would suffer decreased quality of life, ranging from constant discomfort due to accidents to being unable to leave their homes.

Adult incontinent supplies are not donated as often as baby diapers and cost a great deal more.  As a result, diaper banks sometimes have trouble maintaining a reliable supply of adult diapers.   Consider donating to your local diaper bank to help them acquire the incontinence supplies that could make a meaningful improvement in the quality of life for a disabled person or an older person.  If you do not have a diaper bank nearby, consider donating to the National Diaper Bank Network.

Rising Tides–Food Security and the National Welfare

Advocates for tax cuts often invoke the saying “A rising tide lifts all boats” as support for tax cut policies that favor the rich on the theory that such cuts will support the larger economy.  Tax cuts like the proposed cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), commonly known as “food stamps,” from which the proposed House Budget plans to cut by $127 billion over ten years.  But apart from the question of whether the underlying premise–that tax cuts favoring high earners helps the economy–this use of the phrase to justify tax cuts ignores the actual reason that a rising tide lifts boats.

Boats, floating on water, rise when the water rises underneath the boat.  The water acts like a floor–below which no boat sails.

Rather than tax cuts, the proverb seems more applicable to those programs that help ensure that people’s most basic needs are met–the floor below which no one should be allowed to sink.  We should apply the proverb to programs that ensure that people have food and shelter, that jobs pay at least a minimum wage, that all children have access to quality educational opportunities.  It is through these programs that the national economy expands and thrives, causing all boats to rise–dinghies as well as yachts.

SNAP, and the other food assistance programs, the National School Lunch Program and the Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) help an extraordinary number of people struggling to provide food for their family for comparatively little money.  According to the USDA‘s report on Household Food Security in 2010, SNAP provided an average benefit of $134 to an average of 40.3 million people each month. The School Lunch Program provided lunches to an average of 31.6 million school children each day, 56% of which were provided free to children in low income families.  And WIC served an average of 9.2 million participants each month, providing benefits of about $42 per person.

Although these are not large amounts per person, they are effective.  Census data show while that hunger and food insecurity surged in 2008, it did not increase further in 2009 and 2010 even though unemployment and poverty continued to increase. This is because programs such as SNAP and WIC were expanded to meet the increased need.  We also know that SNAP is effective in reducing the nation’s poverty rate.  In 2010, it succeeded in lifting 3.9 million U.S. residents, many of whom are children, above the poverty line.

But it is not only the recipients who benefit from SNAP dollars, local communities benefit as well.   According to the USDA, for every $5 of SNAP funding, $9 of community spending is generated.  Also, because SNAP and other food assistance programs help people get back on their feet, they contribute to ensuring a productive work force for the community and the nation.  Thirty percent of people who receive SNAP work for wages.  Ensuring that workers are sufficiently fed may help ensure that they and their families are healthier, thereby reducing the number of lost work days due to illness.  Additionally, SNAP benefits, which can be used at local farmer’s markets, help the nation’s family farm economy–in 2010, 1611 farmer’s markets and direct marketing farmers participated in SNAP. Each $1 billion of retail generated by SNAP creates $340 million in farm production, $110 million in farm value added, and 3,300 farm jobs and 8,900-17,900 full-time jobs.

Indeed, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, SNAP is considered the one of the most effective government response to the recession, not just for people in need, but for our entire economy.  So the next time someone says that a rising tide floats all boats, agree, but point out that the most effective way to raise the tide is to support SNAP, not by cutting it.  Help ensure that we don’t leave our neighbors under water, and thus further impoverish our nation–support SNAP and the other food security programs.  Don’t leave people stranded at low tide.

Raising Awareness

One of our stated goals at the National Diaper Bank Network is to raise awareness of diaper need.  By “raising awareness,” we mean spreading the word that there are people in the United States who struggle to provide clean, dry diapers for their children, and that there are organizations like diaper banks that can help these people obtain the diapers they need.  This process of telling people that other people need and cannot afford diapers is so much a part of organizing and running a diaper drive or a diaper bank that even directors of diaper banks sometimes are unconscious of how often they “raise awareness” as they work to raise diapers and funds and connect people with diapers. And because the need is so apparent to those of us who deal with the issue everyday, we almost forget that not everyone thinks about how necessary diapers are to a family with very young children.   But diaper need is often not immediately self-evident to those who no longer rely on diapers (for themselves or their family members). They need to be reminded that children without clean diapers suffer from diaper rash and other health problems, and that a baby crying because of a wet diaper that cannot be changed because there are no more diapers adds to the stressors on parents struggling to make ends meet.  We think that the more directions from which the message is sent, the more likely it is to take root.

For that reason, we are thrilled whenever we see someone commenting on the need for diapers and letting others know there is such a need.  In his blog documenting an experiment to conduct 366 Random Acts of Kindness this year, Ryan describes giving diapers to the Bundle of Joy Diaper Bank in Chicago after researching what to do with his baby’s unused diapers.  We also recently learned of Pastor Eric’s planned Ride across America for Diapers, in which he will ride from Washington State to Washington, DC, spreading word about the desperate need for diapers in many communities in this country.  The more messengers carrying the message, the farther it will travel.

As we raise awareness of the need, it is also important to remind people that there are many dedicated individuals and organizations working to address the need in their communities and across the country, otherwise the problem can seem  insurmountable.  Many diaper banks were formed in isolation, and we have only just begun to build this network of diaper banks, so many people who may be aware of diaper need may not be aware of the actions that they can take in their communities to help.  But we anticipate that as word spreads about NDBN and the network of diaper banks located in communities throughout the country that people will be encouraged to seek out their local diaper bank to make a contribution to help or, for those located in areas where there is no diaper bank, start a diaper bank of their own.

Tell everyone that there is a need for diapers and why, and how they can help.  Embrace your local media, and seek opportunities to talk about the need in your communities.  And when you meet someone spreading the word–whether on a bicycle or on a blog–embrace them as a fellow convert, and let them know what you are doing to help.  Also, let people know we’re here to help, whether to frame the issue of diaper need, draft press releases,  share collective knowledge, or help fledgling diaper banks get off the ground and existing diaper banks expand to address their community’s need.

Guardian Angels

Our Administrative Associate, Jane, has fielded many of the calls we get from individuals looking for diapers.  As a resource for diaper banks and those wanting to start diaper banks, our primary communications is generally with diaper banks rather than individuals, but since we first activated our website, we have received calls and emails from individuals from all over the country desperate for diapers.  The calls are often heartbreaking: from mothers who recently lost their jobs and are trying to figure out how they will care for a sick baby; grandmothers wanting to find a way to help fill a need for an unemployed son and his growing family; homeless shelters for women transitioning from substance abuse programs or incarceration–because the need is great everywhere, the list goes on and on.

But, more often than not, Jane has been able to connect these callers with a diaper bank or an agency that can provide at least some temporary help to these folks.  Jane credits “Guardian Angels” she has discovered in the process of working here.  And these guardian angels exist all over the country, willing to take action to make a difference in the lives of other people.  They may take different forms–a sympathetic administrator at a food bank, a director of a women’s shelter, or a generous mom with the time and willingness to create a mobile diaper bank–but they are all the people that make our goal of ensuring that all children have the clean diapers they need a realistic possibility instead of an impossible dream.

We want to thank the Guardian Angels we have met thus far, and those we have yet to meet (but we know are out there) for helping us create a network of committed individuals and organizations dedicated to closing the diaper gap.

Struggling to Climb out of the Hole of Poverty

The Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act, or “the end of welfare as we know it” was intended to help people climb out of poverty through work, and included some important support systems, such as subsidized childcare and work training and counseling programs.  In the 1990s, when times were good, the program was credited with getting millions of people of the welfare rolls. But we are finding that in order to leave poverty through work, there must be work available, as a study by the Economic Policy Institute finds, noting that the successes of the 1990s have been largely erased in this past decade.  As Isabel Sawhill of the Brookings Institute, one of the architects of welfare reform writes, “What is needed is a stronger safety net for as long as it takes to get the unemployment rate back to reasonable levels.”

It is hard to climb out of poverty when you are in danger of falling through in one of the holes in the safety net.  Food stamps cannot be used for diapers, toothpaste, or other hygiene supplies.  Although some food pantries have diapers occasionally, they are treated like a precious commodity.  As one mother quoted in an article by Tom Zeller Jr. in the Huffington Post said, “There’s no program for diapers. . . .That’s what we went to the food bank for. So we would stand in line at the diaper lady. We would run to that line, because boy you needed them. And she would cut the bag in half and she kept track of how old our children were, and she would do the grandmotherly thing and say, ‘Why is your child still in diapers?’ to encourage us to do potty training. Not because she was the Grinch, but because you only had so many diapers and there were mothers coming up behind you whose children were not in that age to start potty training.”

Diapers are a small thing, but donations to a diaper bank can help fill at least one hole in the safety net, and help parents struggling to make the climb out of poverty.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 455 other followers

%d bloggers like this: