Since launching the Detroit Area Diaper Bank on April 12, 2009, I’ve been asked how and why I started it and have recounted the story so many times, that I figured it’s time to finally write it down.
In December 2000, I was a newlywed living in Tucson, Arizona. One day, while out doing errands during my lunch break at work, I heard the DJ on the radio talking about the holiday diaper drive he was participating in for the Southern Arizona Community Diaper Bank (now the Diaper Bank of Southern Arizona).
He said that no assistance programs paid for diapers and recounted stories of parents resorting to scraping off diapers and putting them back on their children. Or laying wet diapers out in the Arizona sun to dry and reusing them, hoping they’d continue to be absorbent. He talked about how children who are uncomfortable don’t sleep well or might have severe diaper rash and cry, and how in an already stressed household, an inconsolable baby is a baby at risk for abuse.
He also talked about seniors on fixed incomes who can’t afford the exorbitantly-expensive adult diapers they need and so they stay home, becoming isolated and increasing pressure on other services like Meals on Wheels and in-home care. And also about children with disabilities who may never outgrow the need for diapers and will need them to go to school or job training.
It was one of those rare, life-changing “lightbulb” moments.
“People who need it can’t get help with diapers?” I said out loud to myself in the car. I was truly stunned. Here I was, a college-educated, informed professional who had worked on Capitol Hill yet had no idea that none of the federal assistance programs – not WIC, Food Stamps or Medicare – paid for diapers or hygiene supplies for those in need.
I immediately turned my car into the parking lot of a grocery store I was passing, bought diapers and dropped them off at the diaper drive where the DJ had been broadcasting.
And the issue of diaper need became a part of who I am.
In March 2003, my husband was hired by Ford Motor Company and moved us to Canton, Michigan.
When we arrived, I knew Metro Detroit needed a Diaper Bank. By this point, my husband, my parents back in Virginia Beach and my friends were used to me talking passionately about diaper banks, what the need for diapers means, collecting diapers and running drives for local shelters, and that I wanted to start one some day. However, at the time we moved to Michigan, I had a 5-month-old son, my mother was sick back in Virginia, we had two more children in quick succession, and then I lost my mom. So life, as it does, happened, and the Diaper Bank couldn’t make it to the front burner.
But in April 2009, my youngest had turned 3 and I was just starting to feel that I was getting some time back for myself. It was the height of the recession and unemployment in Michigan was over 15%. Previously middle-class families were sliding down the economic scale and needed assistance for the first time, increasing pressure on social services that were already strained. Families in poverty were sinking deeper into poverty. I knew I had to get the Diaper Bank started – even if only on a small scale – but I had to start doing something to help get diapers out for those who were so in need.
So I incorporated, applied for 501c3 tax-exempt status, built the website, and with the help of free social media tools like Facebook and Twitter, the Detroit Area Diaper Bank was launched on April 12, 2009. The date holds special significance for me since it is also my mother’s birthday. I know she would have loved the Diaper Bank project and the difference we hope to make for our neighbors in need.
I’m extremely grateful to my family, friends and all of our donors and supporters who have helped the Detroit Area Diaper Bank come to fruition and start to make an impact across Metro Detroit.
I am still just as passionate about the diaper issue more than a decade later and am excited to continue growing our community diaper bank until it’s part of the basic social fabric of Southeast Michigan. Every community needs a diaper bank. I’m proud to say I’ve helped make sure that Metro Detroit has one.