Don’t ever let anyone tell you browsing news on social media is a waste of time. That’s what led to the creation of the first National Diaper Bank location in North Alabama, and it all started with a group of concerned moms with a sense of purpose. This is the story of the Great Diaper Drive.
I’m a native to Huntsville. We build the rockets that launch things into space, and have one of the highest concentrations of literal rocket scientists in the world. It was Sarah, one of RCM’s contributors who also works on the SLS Rocket, that initially had the idea of a diaper drive. Huntsville mamas tend to be sweet, southern, and smart as all get out – not the sort to sit on the sidelines when they see something that needs doing (like figuring out a way to get to Mars).
The History of the Great Diaper Drive
Sarah discovered this 2013 study by the AAP that verified something moms already knew – the financial struggle to provide diapers for a baby is REAL. She messaged us – “Y’all. What can we do about this???” – and we launched into action. Surely, with all of our community resources we could figure something out, because the stories the data told in the study were unacceptable.
To see peer-reviewed confirmation that one in three families struggle to afford diapers for their baby was shocking. 8% of moms who participated admitted to letting their child stay in a diaper they knew was dirty to make them last longer, and even scraping a dirty diaper clean to reuse it. Couple that study with the fact that more than a quarter of Alabama’s children live in poverty, and my friends and I knew we were fighting a crisis. These were babies in our city, with parents who needed help.
Moms Get Stuff DONE.
So what’s a group of determined moms to do? Activate other moms. We called our friend Fran at Manna House, a hands-on charity that provided food, clothing, and supplies to Huntsville’s homeless and those in immediate need. We began planning the first year of The Great Diaper Drive, a month-long effort to collect diapers for local families.
That month, several mom-owned businesses around Huntsville agreed to collect donated diapers and wipes. We called Glenni and Lisa at the pregnancy boutiques, and Jennifer at Huntsville Hospital for Women & Children helped us secure a billboard to help spread awareness. Thanks to the generosity of Rhonda, another fellow mom, the drive culminated in a family-friendly “diaper shower” at a popular indoor playground. The cost of admission? You guessed it – a pack of diapers and wipes per person.
It seemed as if every place we called was more than eager to help. We even had a local craft beer brewery host a Diapers & Drafts themed shower for us in their taproom that collected 1,000 diapers in one night!
The city-wide effort was enhanced by local media, especially news anchor Michelle Stark at WHNT, who was expecting her first baby and knew she wanted to be closely involved the moment we asked for help. Michelle dug into the project with passion. She helped other local moms tell their stories about leaving situations of domestic abuse and not having money for diapers. WHNT also explained to their viewers on-air why bigger diaper sizes were needed most for families with children who had special needs and took a little longer to potty train.
That was five years and over 400,000 diapers and wipes ago.
Taking It to the Next Level
In 2014, the WHNT news team officially adopted The Great Diaper Drive as an annual service project. Their participation expanded the reach of the drive from one county in Alabama to eleven in the span of a year. Thanks to WHNT, The Great Diaper Drive grew to include major retailers also serving as diaper drop-off locations and a giant Diaper Blitz Day with a day-long live television remote.
Bigger companies like car dealerships, attorney’s offices, dental practices, and even Boeing and Marshal Space Flight Center were showing up alongside Girl Scout troops and neighborhood mom groups to donate diapers. The Village was growing.
Even with that massive amount of local support, we still weren’t scratching the surface of need in our area. Supplies collected were completely depleted in a few month’s time. When the cost of keeping a baby in diapers is around $930 a year, struggling families are just one big medical bill or natural disaster away from diaper insecurity.
For those living in need, the added stress of having to choose between food and diapers is devastating.
Huntsville had to start thinking BIGGER.
At the time there was no diaper bank affiliate in the area, despite the huge need and at-risk data. The Food Bank of North Alabama already provided food for a network of over 250 pantries, shelters, and children’s programs in 11 counties of the state. Moms and dads on the Food Bank’s board of directors were next to answer our call. We approached them about becoming a National Diaper Bank, and that dream became a reality in 2016. Our Village was now national, and year-round!
Why Diaper Insecurity Matters
For families without enough money, running out of diapers is more than an inconvenience. Everyone knows that dirty diapers lead to painful rashes and, if untreated, serious infections, even hospitalization. Sick and hurting babies cry. Crying babies create stress, and added stress can lead to situations of domestic abuse and neglect. If all of that can be avoided with a clean diaper, it’s up to us to build and empower our Villages to provide them.
From the moment Sarah told us about this need, I knew there was no way we could sit back and not get involved. I was surprised there was nothing in place already, especially since diapers aren’t covered by federal assistance programs.
I can’t help but think about the stories from moms that have visited the diaper bank – of simple bad luck, of abusive husbands, of piles of bills and no health insurance, of cash flow issues after a job switch. They’re all stories that could easily have happened to me. To my babies. Those stories laid bare all of my worst nightmares. Being a part of The Great Diaper Drive kept me from feeling helpless, and reminded me we’re all connected and all responsible for the most vulnerable among us – babies, who through no fault of their own, need a clean diaper to be healthy.
We helped to build a Village, and now we need your help to grow it. Host a diaper shower at your office or neighborhood. Help us make the 2018 Great Diaper Drive the biggest ever. Local babies are counting on it.
Get Involved with The Great Diaper Drive
Stephenie has worked with and around books and authors for over 12 years, both at retail booksellers and public libraries. She is a rare Huntsville native, mother of two high-energy boys, wife of one, and eerily addicted to community volunteering. When she's not being the Managing Editor for RCM she likes to stalk her favorite authors online, cook with way too much butter, and also manages to conduct freelance marketing and PR work.