Local initiative's goal is to give families practical help, stress relief
When Deena Kinnaird and Kelly Marrow have run low on disposable diapers for their children, they have asked for diapers from friends and relatives and borrowed money to buy them. They have called around to churches and even kept their children in soiled diapers at times to try to extend their limited supply.
Kinnaird, 25, of Danville, has even resorted to wrapping garbage bags around her kids' cloth underwear and trying to get her son, who will be 3 soon, to sit and play on his potty-training chair for as long as he would stay there.
"It's hard when you have to pay your rent and bills not to mention the baby wipes and all of the other things they need," said Kinnaird, who has been laid off since March and is going to cosmetology school. Her boyfriend and children's father can find only part-time work.
"I thought about switching to cloth" diapers, said Marrow, 19, of Indianola, who also is laid off and looking for a job. "But with the water bill, that would cost even more."
Local public health officials and social service providers in Vermilion and Champaign counties said the women aren't alone in their struggle to keep their children in clean diapers. Their agencies, churches, food pantries and other charitable organizations routinely field calls from low-income parents who are in desperate need of them.
"It's a huge need," said Julie Pryde, public health administrator of the Champaign Urbana Public Health District. "We see it every single day, and we try to help out when we can."
"We get calls for diapers every few days," said Sharon Sawka, social services director at the Salvation Army of Danville. "The sad part is we have to tell them we don't have any. Diapers are something that's typically not donated to us, and we can't use our emergency funds to buy them. It's just one more thing that people in poverty have to be stressed out about."
Now, those folks, along with a local state legislator, are looking for ways to help address the need in their areas. By doing so, they hope to alleviate the added stress to parents, which could create more problems, and remove barriers to education and employment that will keep them in poverty.
"No mother wants to see keep her child in dirty diapers," said Dee Ann Ryan, executive director of the Vermilion County Mental Health 708 Board. "It's definitely something that could cause maternal depression, which, in turn, affects their children.
"Most day care providers require parents to provide enough diapers for their kids to last through the day or they won't take them. If they don't have any, the mothers can't work or go to school. We want to find a way to remove a roadblock that may be keeping them from work or getting an education and improve the well-being of families in our community."
The Diaper Bank
Ryan, other service providers and Danville Township officials are establishing the Diaper Bank of Vermilion County.
The program will be run through WorkSource Enterprises, a long-established nonprofit organization that provides employment opportunities to people with disabilities, to allow people to receive a tax deduction for their donations. However, it will be overseen by a steering committee that will organize drives and distributions.
Its mission: to ensure that all children have clean diapers.
Members already are organizing drives. Danville Township Supervisor Michael West, Highway Commissioner A.J. Wright and state Sen. Mike Frerichs hosted a kickoff collection, called "Diapers for Dignity," during Downtown Danville Inc.'s Taste of Downtown Danville this weekend.
"This is another great example of our community coming together to help each other through tough times," said Frerichs, who learned about the need through constituents and community leaders. "We hope to raise awareness to this cause and help those who need a little extra help."
The collection, located in Palace Park in the first block of North Vermilion Street, runs ends today. People can drop off all sizes of diapers and training pants or monetary donations.
Frerichs' office will continue to collect donations through Oct. 15. People can drop off donations from 9 a.m. to noon and 1 to 4 p.m. daily at his Danville office, 28 W. North St.
Also, Christine Bruns, director of business development at The Pavilion in Champaign, is planning a collection at her workplace in October or November to benefit the diaper bank.
The committee has planned its first distribution for Dec. 7 at WorkSource, 3715 N. Vermilion St., where supplies will be stockpiled. Members also want to hold other distributions in rural areas, where it can be difficult for some low-income parents to access cheap diapers.
That's because parents who don't have reliable transportation often are forced to buy supplies from their local convenience store, West said. In those cases, "they're paying way too much for them, probably double the cost of what they would pay at the big box stores."
'Control over their lives'
To go along with the distribution, the committee is planning an educational component aimed at helping the recipients move out of poverty.
"It's not just a giveaway," said Frank Brunacci, WorkSource's executive director. "We want to empower them so they have control over their lives and can better help their children."
Brunacci and others hope to have representatives from their agencies as well as mental health, domestic violence and substance abuse agencies, the Vermilion County Health Department, Danville Area Community College and the Illinois Department of Employment Security on hand to provide recipients with information to address other needs they may have.
Pryde isn't aware of a diaper bank in Champaign County, although drives have been held for the Crisis Nursery, Center for Women In Transition and the like, and Carle recently collected 35,000 diapers for the Champaign County United Way's Stuff the Bus project. The supply was disbursed among area families.
She applauded the Vermilion County effort and said she would like to do something similar in her county at some point.
Meantime, she and her staff have discussed organizing a large-scale drive later this year. They have thrown around ideas including holding a collection for diapers, as well as feminine hygiene products, on the day of a home Illini football game and calling it the "Cotton Bowl."
Pryde believes such an event would draw a lot of community support.
"A lot of people want to help, but they don't know what to do," she said. "And I can assure you, we have a lot of women who need them."
In addition to holding a drive, Frerich's office is also researching whether some type of state legislation could be of assistance.
"There is no concrete legislation at this time," said Reena Tandon, an Illinois Senate Democrats staffer. "We're just doing research and trying to figure out what we can do."
$18 a week
Both Ryan and Pryde said they have long recognized the need. But they sprang into action after reading a Yale School of Medicine study published in the August issue of "Pediatrics."
Recognized as the first academic study to quantify the diaper need and the associated psychosocial variables, it surveyed about 1,000 low-income mothers in New Haven, Conn., and found that nearly 30 percent reported they couldn't afford an adequate supply of diapers.
Researchers estimated that an adequate supply of diapers cost an average of $18 a week, or $936 a year per child. Marrow of Indianola, a single mother, said she pays about $20 a week, for her son's diapers.
"Those are the generic ones," said Marrow, who said she has gone without new clothes, toiletries and even certain food in order to keep her 2-1/2-year-old son in clean diapers.
The study showed that the women who lacked an adequate supply of diapers were more likely to report symptoms of depression and anxiety than their counterparts who did, which has implications for their children's development.
And "children whose parents manifest high levels of stress or depression are at greater risk of social, emotional and behavioral problems," it said.
The study found that 8 percent reported "stretching" diapers — keeping children in soiled diapers for as long as the diapers will last — which can put the children at risk for rashes, urinary tract infections and staph infections and, sometimes as a result, expensive visits to the doctor's offices and emergency rooms.
Parents can't purchase diapers using food stamps under the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. Furthermore, subsidies through Temporary Assistance for Needy Families are often tied to attendance at work or training programs.
But "families without diapers may be unable to obtain child care (because families are required to provide diapers as a condition of child care at many facilities)," potentially affecting parents ability to work, get training or further their education, the report said.
Researchers concluded that providing mothers with an adequate supply of diapers may be a tangible way of reducing parental stress, and that health and social service providers could help reduce that stress by asking parents about their diaper need and referring them to a local diaper distribution center if one exists.
"Everybody thinks these things take big policy changes," Ryan said. "But this is something we can do at a grass-roots level that could make a big difference."
National diaper network
Ryan's steering committee is consulting with the National Diaper Bank of Network, based in Connecticut. The network was established in late 2010 and began working the following year to raise awareness about diaper need at a national level, help existing and new diaper banks grow to meet their local needs and secure national-level resources to help address the need.
Currently, there are 150 diaper banks in the networks' database, said Colleen Shaddox, director of communications and development. They range from small, volunteer programs that serve a single neighborhood to large professional operations that distribute 3 million diapers a year throughout an entire region.
"We get calls every day from people wanting to start diaper banks or programs," director of programs Alison Weir said, adding the network encourages local programs to work with agencies in their communities that serve low-income people.
Shaddox said sustaining a program takes a lot of hard work.
"It's a very sympathetic issue once people know about it. Most people don't," she said. "You really have to have a dedicated group of volunteers who are doing a great deal of awareness raising. And they are constantly having events."
Shaddox's organization helps programs network and also connects them with donors, including diaper companies. She said Huggies, one of the network's founding sponsors, donates 20 million diapers a year and the network helps distribute them.
"As wonderful as that is, they go quickly," she said.
Network officials said programs, whether big or small, have a "huge" impact on the people they serve.
"For some of these women, they have to make the decision to buy food, pay utilities or buy diapers," Weir said.
"Some of them aren't able to go to work, so (a lack of diapers) really keeps them in poverty," Shaddox added, recalling a time when she ran an emergency food pantry. "Occasionally, we would get a donation of diapers. Whenever we were able to give them away, you should have seen the moms' faces. They would light up."