Unnatural Disasters

When the Daily News sent truckloads of goods to Staten Island, it wasn’t the food and bottled water that got the most enthusiastic reception from residents battered by Hurricane Sandy.

“Thank God you guys had diapers, thank God theDaily News got diapers,” Salvatore Antonelli said as the News truck laden with the precious cargo arrived.

Antonelli said he and pal Regina Azzarelli have 11 grandchildren between them. And ever since Sandy struck last week, diapers have been in demand.

At the National Diaper Bank Network, we partnered with Huggies and the American Red Cross to get diapers to families hard-hit by the storm. We also got a call from an absolute angel of a man who is personally donating 20,000 diapers to children affected by the storm in New Jersey and New York. We were able to accept large donations and get diapers into disaster areas quickly thanks to our distribution partner, Kids in Distressed Situations. We were honored to be able to help babies in this time of need.

The generosity we’ve seen in the past week has been inspiring. The task of those of us who run non-profits is to find a better way to communicate need outside of these extraordinary events. Diapers, like food, water and housing, are a necessity. During a natural disaster like Sandy, we all recognize that.

But for many families, every day is a disaster where it’s a struggle to meet children’s basic needs. Yet the traditional safety net programs that benefit poor children, like WIC and Food Stamps, do not pay for diapers. Except in extreme circumstances, we don’t treat diapers like the necessities that they are.

One in three families struggles to provide diapers. As a result, babies are left in wet diapers and get rashes and infections. One in twenty moms reports emptying out soiled diapers and reusing them because she cannot afford to change her baby. Those are shocking statistics. Worse: They are unnecessary statistics.

The past week has shown what we can all do when we see people in need and then resolve to help. We need to translate that resolve into an ongoing commitment to reach out to families who are rocked by a layoff, an eviction or a hospital bill that’s more than a year’s pay. People face storms of many kinds. The question is: How committed are we to helping our neighbors weather them?

Follow Joanne Goldblum on Twitter: www.twitter.com/jgoldblum

This post appeared originally in The Huffington Post on November 9, 2012

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.  

Summer of Kindness

NDBN was mentioned recently in the July 2012 issue of Good Housekeeping, in an article entitled “50 Simple Acts of Kindness.”  (We’re at #12, which recommends donating diapers.)   Just for grins, and because it was Monday morning in the summer after an on-again-off-again sort of week, we decided to see how many of these suggested simple acts of kindness we currently have incorporated into our regular routine.  Among the three of us (yes, all this magic happens as the result of three people), we found we already do 30 on a regular basis.

The suggestions tend to fall into certain categories of daily living.  Many of these suggestions are what might be called common courtesy– letting the person behind you in line go first (#4) (I do this particularly if they only have a few items); holding the door open for someone (#7); and letting other cars merge onto the highway (#9).  Others are a form of recycling, recognizing that items you might have no need for may still be useful to others, such as donating professional clothes to organizations like Dress for Success (#18) or donating old cell phones to organizations that can use them, such as the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (#25)  (there are also organizations that collect cell phones for the troops).  Donating old eye glasses to the Lions Club could also fall into this category, although the article does not mention it.  An extension of this category is the category of thoughtful giving–bringing combs, toothbrushes and toothpaste (and other hygiene items) to a homeless shelter (#8); loading extra money into a vending machine for the next person (#31); buying a book for a child (#38); and providing inexpensive coloring books and crayons to a pediatric ward (#5).   And still others fall into what my mother would call good manners–making others feel welcomed and thought of–relying an overheard comment (#37); rescuing a wallflower standing alone at a party (#48); and genuinely asking others how you can help (#50).   None of the suggestions are earth shattering, but each idea, if implemented, has the potential to make someone’s day a little brighter and easier, and to make the doer feel better about her place in the world.

We’ve decided that we are going to make it a point this summer to incorporate all of these suggestions into our regular routines.  With the hot weather, it’s easy for people’s nerves to be frayed, so it seems as if summer is a good time to exercise our kindness muscles.   It will allow all of us to exercise our baking skills (several suggestions involve giving neighbors and public servants like firefighters treats); make someone else’s day a little brighter; and do our part to improve life in our community and the world.

What other acts of kindness can you add to this list?  Consider starting your own summer of kindness, with a donation of diapers to your local diaper bank or social service agency, and a donation to the National Diaper Bank Network.

We’ll be charting our progress on this blog.  So for our first act (#39 on the list), here’s a video our Facebook friends pointed us to.   Enjoy. 

Helping Babies Escape Poverty by Helping Parents Finish High School

A recent report issued by the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy identifies a direct link between teen pregnancy and high school dropout rates.

In 2010, the latest data available, 367,752 infants were born to teenage mothers.  Although this number is a record low, the United States still has the largest number of teen pregnancies in the developed world.  The numbers vary by state, with Mississippi having the highest teen birthrate in the U.S.  (Mississippi is also the location of many of the people looking for diapers who call us.)

Teen-aged mothers face a huge number of obstacles in escaping poverty, and as a result, so do their children.  One of the greatest obstacles is the difficulty teen moms have in completing their high school education (not to mention any post-secondary education).  According to the National Campaign, only 40 % of teen mothers finish high school and less than 2% of teen mothers finish college by age 30.  Dropout rates are particularly high for Latinas students.

There are programs that help parents stay in school.  For example, the Elizabeth Celotto Day Care  at Wilbur Cross High School in New Haven, CT, provides high quality child care services to the children of students.  The program has dramatically improved the graduation rate for local teen moms.  The program is even more effective because it provides diapers for the children through a partnership with The Diaper Bank in North Haven, Connecticut.  Prior to the partnership, the child care center noticed that students were staying home from school when they did not have enough diapers for their children that day, often at the end of the month.  Since that the formation of the partnership with The Diaper Bank, student attendance, and graduation rates, have improved.

The potential for such partnerships between high school based programs and diaper banks exists across the country.  The Inland NW Baby Diaper Bank provides diapers to a local high school parenting program, as shown in this great documentary.  Partnerships like these are just one example of how diaper banks can provide a “bootstrap” to help lift teenage parents out of poverty.  Give generously to your local diaper bank, and help us ensure that there are diaper banks available everywhere to help parents finish their education and have the best opportunity to lift themselves and their families out of poverty.

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.

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.

The National Diaper Bank Network is Open for Business

Over the last fifteen years, diaper banks have been popping up all over the country to provide diapers to families in need, but before now there was no national resource for people starting or looking for diaper banks.  Enter the National Diaper Bank Network, which, thanks to the help of our Founding Sponsor, Huggies® Every Little Bottom, has been established to help existing diaper banks grow and to help people start new diaper banks.   We’ve only been open for business for about a month, but we have already heard from diaper banks across the country and from many of you who want to start a diaper bank.   We’ve also received calls from giving folks like Bob in Weymouth, Massachusetts who, after surviving brain surgery, decided to use his disposable income to provide diapers to a local child advocacy program.

As someone reading this blog, you probably already know that there are families who cannot afford diapers for their children.  Diapers cannot be bought with food stamps or WIC vouchers, and they are expensive, costing as much as $100 a month.  Many people are unaware of the difficulties some families face with diapers.  This difficulty, which we call “diaper need,” can limit a family’s ability to achieve financial stability because a lack of diapers means parents cannot leave their children at childcare and go to work.   It can also subject a child to bladder infection, dermatitis, and other health problems that result from staying in a dirty diaper too long.  It can also increase a child’s chances for abuse, because a child in a dirty diaper is more likely to cry for longer period, and infant crying has been linked to child abuse.

Diaper banks help alleviate diaper need not only by providing diapers to families in need, but also by raising awareness of the problem.  In order to fix a problem, people have to know that the problem exists.  We’re here to help spread the word about diaper need, which in turn will help diaper banks raise funds and community support.  We’re also here to help people who want to start diaper banks in their communities.  We recently held our first webinar on starting a diaper bank, which is posted on our website.

We’re getting great responses to our initial efforts and look forward to hearing from more of you.  Check this blog, our website and Facebook page for upcoming webinars and tools for diaper banks, and let us know about your efforts to raise awareness and combat diaper need in your communities.   Thank you for all that you do!

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