With White House push, the di­a­per gap comes into view

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - FEATURES - By Leanne Italie

Chris­tine Shotts, in Spring­field, Mis­souri, has eight kids un­der age 9. She works two part-time jobs and her hus­band works as a car me­chanic, but their in­comes don’t stretch nearly far enough.

Jil­cana Mon­toya has the same prob­lem. She’s on gov­ern­ment as­sis­tance in Wash­ing­ton, D.C., liv­ing in tran­si­tional hous­ing while earn­ing her GED and car­ing for her 2-year-old son and 7-month-old daugh­ter.

One of their most ur­gent needs is of­ten a hid­den one: keep­ing their kids in di­a­pers. And they’re hardly alone, driv­ing a rel­a­tively new move­ment to dis­trib­ute free dis­pos­able — and some­times cloth — di­a­pers to those who can af­ford them the least.

“We’d get a small pack of di­a­pers and I’d have to make that stretch un­til the next week,” said the 30-year-old Shotts, who has two kids still in di­a­pers.

“We would scrounge up change or what­ever we could. We col­lected cans and turned them in for re­cy­cling. We would get one size only, size 4, and I would put them all in size 4 so I could get a big­ger box,” she said.

Added the 22-year-old Mon­toya: “I never had enough money for di­a­pers. I would need to use the money I was go­ing to use to eat.”

Di­a­pers can cost $70 to $80 a month. That price tag is es­pe­cially chal­leng­ing for fam­i­lies who don’t have broad­band in­ter­net ac­cess (where there are more deals on­line), can’t af­ford on­line sub­scrip­tion fees for re­tail sites, must pay in cash or live far from big box stores to get the best di­a­per deals.

Gov­ern­ment aid pro­grams ex­clude di­a­per pur­chases, and there are 5.3 mil­lion chil­dren un­der 3 liv­ing in need, ac­cord­ing to re­search.

A net­work of about 320 food pantries, so­cial ser­vice agen­cies and com­mu­nity groups have stepped in with the help of Hug­gies. Since 2011, Hug­gies par­ent Kim­berly-Clark has do­nated more than 200 mil­lion di­a­pers and the same num­ber of di­a­per wipes to the Na­tional Di­a­per Bank Net­work, based in New Haven, Con­necti­cut.

So what took so long for the so-called “di­a­per gap” to be ad­dressed?

“Most of our anti-poverty pro­grams miss the de­tails,” said Joanne Gold­blum, a for­mer so­cial worker who is the CEO and founder of the di­a­per net­work. “They look at the big pic­ture and they don’t look at the small pic­ture. And the truth is that it’s the lit­tle things that im­pact most peo­ple’s day-to­day lives more than any­thing else.”

Gold­blum started small. She be­gan a lo­cal di­a­per bank in New Haven in 2004 with a few friends, col­lect­ing do­na­tions and giv­ing out di­a­pers from her home. She es­tab­lished the na­tional net­work, now span­ning 46 states, the Dis­trict of Columbia and Guam, af­ter Hug­gies came knock­ing. There were other di­a­per banks when she started hers in New Haven, but the na­tional net­work helped draw at­ten­tion to the is­sue.

Jose Corella, se­nior brand man­ager for Hug­gies, said Gold­blum’s ef­forts played right into a study and so­cial me­dia cam­paign the com­pany launched to raise aware­ness of the di­a­per gap the year be­fore, in 2010.

“What we saw in our study is that some of those house­holds that suf­fer from di­a­per need end up reusing dis­pos­able di­a­pers, so they’re wash­ing them and hang­ing them to dry,” he said. “You can imag­ine this leads to a host of health is­sues.”

Ear­lier this year, the White House is­sued a call to ac­tion and Pres­i­dent Barack Obama chal­lenged on­line re­tail­ers, di­a­per mak­ers and non­prof­its to come up with in­no­va­tive so­lu­tions.

Ce­cilia Munoz, an as­sis­tant to the pres­i­dent and di­rec­tor of the White House’s Do­mes­tic Pol­icy Coun­cil, noted in a March brief­ing that the poor­est fam­i­lies with in­fants use 14 per­cent of their in­come for di­a­pers alone — an av­er­age $936 per child each year. By con­trast, many higher in­come fam­i­lies pay less than half that amount.

Out of the White House ini­tia­tive, the on­line site Jet.com got in­volved, en­list­ing the help of Cu­ties di­a­pers and non­profit or­ga­ni­za­tions. First Qual­ity, which makes Cu­ties, de­signed a new, bare-bones type of di­a­per pack­ag­ing, with less col­ored print­ing and other short­cuts, to re­duce costs.

Jet is sell­ing the packs to com­mu­nity dis­trib­u­tors at no profit, driv­ing down the cost of such third-party pur­chases by as much as 25 per­cent and guar­an­tee­ing two-day ship­ping with no min­i­mum or­der. Launched in April, the ef­fort dubbed the Com­mu­nity Di­a­per Pro­gram ex­pects to han­dle more than 15 mil­lion di­a­pers bound for low-in­come fam­i­lies this year alone.

Corinne Can­non, a for­mer teacher who founded the DC Di­a­per bank in 2010, is one of the na­tional net­work’s dis­trib­u­tors, plug­ging into so­cial ser­vice agen­cies. Her bank is the source of Mon­toya’s di­a­per sup­ply.

“A lot of time we don’t think about the lived re­al­ity of poverty,” Can­non said. “We talk a lot about par­ent­ing and poverty, but what does that phys­i­cally look like if you’re tak­ing three buses a day with a tod­dler to buy di­a­pers? What does that look like if you’re stretch­ing di­a­pers? These are things that were never dis­cussed. We’ve got a lot of young moms who are hes­i­tant, who don’t want to say they need some­thing as basic as this.” On­line The Na­tional Di­a­per Bank Net­work: http://na­tional­dia­per­banknet­work.org/

TROY MOORE — NA­TIONAL DI­A­PER BANK NET­WORK VIA AP

In this photo pro­vided by The Na­tional Di­a­per Bank Net­work, Debi Keyes, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of The Di­a­per Al­liance in Mid­land, Mich., left, along with Pro­gram Di­rec­tor Jill Birch­meier, dis­trib­ute boxes of di­a­pers from The Di­a­per Al­liance’s load­ing dock in Mid­land, Mich., as part of the or­ga­ni­za­tion’s monthly di­a­per dis­tri­bu­tion to lo­cal part­ner agen­cies. By work­ing with area com­mu­nity groups, The Di­a­per Al­liance pro­vides strug­gling fam­i­lies with free di­a­pers for their in­fants and tod­dlers.

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