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New push underway to get free diapers to poor families

For those living below or anywhere near the poverty line, the list of daily struggles is long – and mostly familiar:  food, housing, medical care...  Over the last decade, diaper banks have emerged in some 40 spots throughout the country; Wyoming is not yet one of them.  In the meantime, a new nationwide effort is underway to bring awareness and unprecedented resources to the problem of “diaper need.”  From Washington, Elizabeth Wynne Johnson reports.

ELIZABETH WYNNE JOHNSON: This is a story about connecting dots… and about little things that make a big difference.

AMB   oohs ahhs – sound of package rustle

JOHNSON: Heather Parks is the mother of a five-month-old.  But at the moment, the precious bundle she’s cradling…

HEATHER PARKS: Huggies size 2 … Little Snugglers… but where we live, it’s probably $20…

JOHNSON: And that large, soft cube of diapers will last…

PARKS: Less than a week.  (small laugh) Probably about three days if I’m lucky.  Three days.

JOHNSON: Even when she buys in bulk, this young mom spends at least 80 dollars a month on diapers.  Federal assistance programs like food stamps and WIC (for women, infants and children) don’t cover them.  So she’s happy to be here today… at a shelter and community center serving homeless teens in Washington, DC.  This is where a recently-formed National Diaper Bank Network and a long-established children’s charity have chosen to launch a new partnership. 

AMB  “say thank you”… group: “Yay…” (applause)

JOHNSON: Joanne Goldblum is executive director of the new nationwide network.

JOANNE GOLDBLUM: And what we’re trying to do is to make it so diaper banks don’t have to reinvent everything.

JOHNSON: The cause is getting a big boost from Kimberly-Clark.  The company that makes Huggies is the founding sponsor of this partnership. The company is kicking in 20 million diapers, to be distributed over the course of a single year.  And that’s great, says Goldblum… but an array of logistical hurdles still separate those diapers from millions of delicate bottoms.  To start with, most local diaper banks and shelters don’t have loading docks and pallet jacks.

GOLDBLUM: You don’t think about it, but the truth is it’s very complicated and it’s very expensive.  Huggies is being incredibly generous to donate the diapers, but we need a way to get them out to the people who need them. 

JOHNSON: Enter KIDS.  The children’s charity, Kids In Distressed Situations has 26 years of experience getting companies to donate brand-new products like books, toys and clothing.   And equally important, says KIDS’ executive director, Janice Weinman: 

JANICE WEINMAN: We have a network that has been verified and vetted of agencies that we know will be responsible in getting the product to people in need. 

JOHNSON: But diapers were never part of the equation… until now.  KIDS’ V-P Chris Blake explains that this leg of the stool could extend the footprint of diaper assistance in states that, like Wyoming, tend to be removed from the ebb and flow of charitable distribution networks in denser, more populated areas.

CHRIS BLAKE: Because we have funders that will target specific areas – e.g. in ND we have funders help Indian reservations.  It’s the same in Wyoming … It’s a designated program, and it’s strictly for us to get product to those areas.

JOHNSON: The way Joanne Goldblum of the National Diaper Bank Network sees this point in time –

GOLDBLUM: I think biggest change … having a national organization focused on diaper need is the ability to talk about this as an issue that people will think about, will remember, and to be able to integrate into other anti-poverty groups.

JOHNSON: This partnership comes not a moment too soon for Corinne Cannon.  She founded DC Diaper Bank less than two years ago, after she discovered that the closest one was (and still is) in Pennsylvania. She still routinely gets calls from up and down the mid-Atlantic coast.

CORINNE CANNON:  …saying ‘can you provide diapers to us?’  And the reality is the demand is so great here … we’re not able to expand yet.  But I know, I get requests every week from outside our service area saying ‘we need this.’

JOHNSON: “Diaper need” exposes a stubborn hole in the social safety net. But that hole will get a bit smaller this month:  the first truckloads of diapers are rolling out to about a hundred organizations nationwide.  

That’s five million diapers, every three months. 

Or… roughly the number of diapers that the average parent would attest to changing. 

For Wyoming Public Radio I'm Elizabeth Wynne Johnson in Washington.

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