Trucks Filled with Diapers

. . . are surprisingly hard to unload, particularly if the diapers were on pallets that were loaded on the truck sideways.  I can say this now from first hand experience, since I participated in my first truck unloading last week, as a board member of The Diaper Bank in North Haven, CT.  The Diaper Bank is serving as a hub for our east coast distribution of diapers this month, and received two truckloads of diapers, each containing 268,240 diapers.  The diapers in this truckload came on 30 pallets, or more precisely, what seemed to me to be 30 double decker pallets, which created a high and not entirely stable stack of diapers held together with shrink wrap.  Sort of.  When the pallet jack was operated by less experienced hands, the diapers could (and did) topple over, creating a cascade of boxes in the middle of the warehouse.

Have I mentioned this was my first actual experience with a truck full of diapers?  I have been on a board of The Diaper Bank for nearly three years, and part of my current work duties is to help orchestrate the flow of diapers across the country (although I admittedly leave most of the orchestration to the very capable and charming Chris Blake, senior vice president of our distribution partner, Kids in Distressed Situations).  But I had never before seen what a truck load of diapers looks like.  Now I have. It is a [expletive deleted] lot of diapers.

And the diapers were not loaded on nicely so that we could use the pallet jack to get them off relatively quickly (getting 30 pallets off a truck, even with a pallet jack is not a “quick” process).  The pallets were all turned, so initially we started unloaded box by box to clear one pallet out of the way to get the next off with the pallet jack.  (A pallet jack, for the uninitiated is sort of like a manual fork lift.  It has two long prongs which go into the openings at the bottom of the pallet and allows you to lift the pallet off the floor so you can roll the pallet away to where you want it in the warehouse.  But you need to be able to get to the two slots at the bottom of each pallet to use it.  If they are turned so that the slots are perpendicular to the side of the truck, and thus unaccessible, you can’t use the jack.)  Then the ever resourceful Kym Hunter, Program Director of The Diaper Bank, got the great idea to strap belts around the pallets so we could pull them into the open area of the truck so we could maneuver a pallet jack around to pick them up.  Not  quite as efficient as having straightforward access to the pallet slots, but a definite improvement over unstacking the pallets box by box. (Here’s a picture of Kym Hunter and Eboni Costi after wrestling a doubledecker pallet to the warehouse) 

Having seen how much space 268,240 diapers take, I now have a better appreciation for how many diapers that really is.  But I am also even more amazed when I realize how little that number will do to help the diaper need problem facing our nation.  Without getting into questions about sizes and such, and assuming an average of 50 diaper changes a week, 268,240 diapers would provide a week’s worth of diaper changes for 5,364 children, or a year’s worth of changes for about 104 children.  The Diaper Bank in North Haven helps 4000 families monthly.  Even if these diapers were going to stay in North Haven, they would be a great help, but not enough.  These diapers, however, are destined not only for The Diaper Bank, but will also be distributed to other diaper banks in the Northeast.  And there are still other trucks filled with diapers going out to other distribution points throughout the country (another shout out to Chris Blake–THANK YOU).

As I mentioned in an earlier blog post, “So How Many Diapers Do We Need?,”  we need billions of diapers to help the 5.7 million infants and toddlers living in poor and low-income families. Every little bit helps–every package of diapers you bring to a local diaper bank helps a family in need, and every dollar you give can be used to buy diapers.   Help us close the diaper gap.  

Some thoughts on Independence Day

Tomorrow we celebrate Independence Day, the official “birthday” of the United States.  Often, we celebrate by considering what it means to be an American.

One of the enduring aspects of the American character is our appreciation of the independent individual–the person who can make his or her way in the world without a helping hand.  But the truth is, we all need a helping hand.  Whether it is your parents or other caregiver who taught you how to walk, speak, and care for yourself, the teacher who taught you how to read, write, add, and think critically, the mentor who took you under his or her wing at work, or anyone else who lent a helping hand, we all can look back at a point in our lives when we needed help in obtaining the position we hold and the things have so we could be “independent individuals.”  In truth, one of the things that makes America great is that there are so many people in our lives willing to reach out and help others pull themselves up.

For families in need, diaper banks can provide that helping hand to achieving independence.  A family without diapers cannot place their children in quality child care, limiting their ability to go to work or school. A family without diapers can sink into a funk of despair and stress that makes it difficult to focus on any higher order need beyond clothing and feeding their children, resulting in less opportunity to stimulate children’s intellect and motor development to prepare them for success in life. A baby without diapers lives in daily discomfort, limiting his ability to absorb the world around him.  Diapers can help families and children focus on obtaining those skills and economic position that will allow them to succeed independently.

Help us help families in need to obtain the independence that is the American ideal.  Give generously to your local diaper bank, or consider holding a diaper drive in your community to celebrate what makes America great.

Why Diapers? Some Facts That Might Surprise You

Diapers are a basic need for children in the United States, as essential to their health and well-being as food, shelter and a parent’s love.  Unlike other necessities such as food and heat, diapers are not recognized as a basic need by the federal government, and so no provision is made to help families acquire diapers.  Federal anti-poverty programs such as Food Stamps (now called the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or SNAP) do not cover diapers, leaving poor families without the means to properly diaper their children.

 

Families from a range of incomes struggle to afford diapers, including both families who fall below the federal guideline of poverty ($22,350 for a family of four) and families with incomes above the federal poverty guideline but who are still considered low-income.  Research suggests that families earning twice the federal poverty guideline still struggle to meet their basic needs, making the poverty level figures cited in this plan a very conservative estimate of the universe of people struggling to meet their diaper needs.

 

Families unable to afford diapers are forced to choose between a range of undesirable alternatives that can severely impact the health and well-being of both the child and the rest of the household.  According to a study by Ravers and Letourneau, 34% of families surveyed had cut back on basics such as food, utilities or child care in order to purchase diapers for their children.[1]  Other families reported leaving their children in soiled diapers for a longer period of time than they otherwise would have.  Some families even resort to cleaning out or drying soiled diapers and reusing them in order to meet their diaper needs.

 

The lack of diapers also limits families’ child care options.  Most licensed child care programs do not accept children who are not sent with an adequate supply of disposable diapers and do not accept alternatives such as cloth diapers.  When parents run out of diapers, they are forced to withdraw their children from child care, hindering their ability to work or attend school.

 

Twenty-two percent of all children under five years of age in the United States live in poverty, ranging as high as 34% in Mississippi to 12% in Maryland.[2]  In the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico, as many as 57% of children under five live in poverty.  This poverty is most pronounced in households headed by single mothers, where 54% of children under five live in poverty, compared to only 27% of children under of five in single father households and 10% of children under five in households with two married parents.[3]

 

In absolute terms, 4.4 million children under five live in poverty[4], of which roughly 2.6 million are children who wear diapers (0-36 months).  At a rate of six diapers per day per child, diaper wearing children in poverty in the United States require more than 5.8 billion diapers annually to keep them clean, dry and healthy.


An inadequate supply of diapers can have severe repercussions for the health and economic and emotional well-being of the child, parent and rest of the household.  Most immediately, an inadequate supply of diapers forces many parents to leave their child in a soiled diaper longer than is appropriate, which frequently leads to diaper rash, and may cause staph infections and urinary tract infections.  Uncomfortable babies also experience irritability, prolonged crying and poor sleep.  These consequences, in turn, erode mother-child attachment and may lead to lower levels of self-esteem and even depression for parents who are not able to provide the diapers their children need.  In many cases, these outcomes result in neglect[5] and abuse of the child.

 

The inability to enroll children in child care due to lack of diapers threatens parents’ economic and educational opportunities.  Without proper child care, parents cannot work to support their families and cannot attend the schooling that will help them provide a firmer economic base for their family.

 

Moreover, the unplanned removal of the child from child care when diapers run out may itself cause harm to the child’s well-being.  Adams and Rohacek report that instability in child care arrangements has been linked to a range of negative outcomes in children, including problems with relationship attachment, social competence, behavior, cognitive ability, language development, school adjustment and overall well-being.[6]

 

In cases where parents cut back on other expenses to afford diapers, families suffer due to a lack of other necessities.  Cutting back on clothing, heat or prescription drugs can negatively affect family members’ health and emotional well-being.


[1] Ibid.

[2] U.S. Census Bureau, American Community Survey 2005-2009.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Laura Frame, Parent-Child Relationships in Conditions of Urban Poverty: Protection, Care, and Neglect of Infants and Toddlers, Center for Social Service Research, School of Social Work, U.C. Berkeley, 2001, p.4.

[6] Gina Adams and Monica Rohacek, Child Care Instability: Definitions, Context, and Policy Implications, Urban Institute, 2010, p.6.

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