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.
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Summertime

On last Sunday’s Tony Award Broadcast, Audra McDonald sang the Gershwin hit, “Summertime”

Summertime,

And the livin’ is easy

Fish is jumpin’

And the cotton is high

Oh, your daddy’s rich

and your mamma’s good lookin’

So hush little baby

Don’t you cry.

But for a lot of children, summertime means life becomes more difficult.  As schools let out for the summer, children who rely on school breakfast and lunch programs cannot rely on those two meals each day.  As we posted last week, the Feeding America Map the Meal Gap project added child food insecurity to its map, and identified a disturbingly large area of the country where child food insecurity reaches more than 30%, and a distressingly small proportion where the food insecurity was less than 14%. As the New York Times reported last November, millions of children are now receiving free or reduced-cost lunches as once solidly middle class parents have lost jobs or homes during the economic crisis, qualifying their families for the decades-old safety-net program.

A number of communities have begun summer lunch bus programs where buses or food trucks bring nutritious meals to children in their neighborhoods.  These programs operate in conjunction with the USDA’s Summer Food Service Program, and the programs operate in locations that range from some of the biggest cities to rural areas.  There are buses in Chicago; Englewood and Denver, Colorado;  Marin County, Kentucky in rural Appalachia, and even here in New Haven, Connecticut. But the SFSP relies on local community organizations and not-for-profit charities to implement the program in each community.  So, although more than 21 million children receive free and reduced price school lunch, just over 3 million get summer meals.

As with so many issues related to poverty, it seems that the solution to summertime child hunger cannot be addressed by just government or the private sector alone, but requires partnerships between public and private, national and local, and not-for-profit and for-profit organizations to fully address the problem.  USDA solicits help from local organizations through the Corporation for National and Community Service.  Packaged foods giant ConAgra has partnered with Feeding America to provide grants to supplement and expand existing summer food programs in local communities.  In other words, everyone needs to contribute to the solution, because no one sector can solve a problem this big and this basic.  Find organizations in your local community and help make summertime a little easier.

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