The Detroit Area Diaper Bank's Blog

Cleanliness is next to… what now? | April 23, 2012

As I got ready to check out from a quick, basic stop at the grocery store, it struck me how many items in my cart I wouldn’t be able to purchase if I only had food stamps to pay with, like so many of our neediest neighbors:

  • I couldn’t buy the tinfoil I use to cook my family’s food
  • I couldn’t buy the plastic wrap to store leftovers in the fridge
  • I couldn’t buy ziploc bags to send my kids’ snacks into school

…and various other sundries that help me run our household. But what really struck me is how many cleanliness-related items I wouldn’t have in my cart:

  • I couldn’t buy detergent to clean my children’s clothes
  • I couldn’t buy soap or shampoo to keep my children clean
  • I couldn’t buy cleaning supplies to keep our home clean
  • I couldn’t buy tissues for my middle son who goes through them like crazy with his spring allergies (much less allergy medicine to give him some relief)
  • I couldn’t buy toilet paper
  • I couldn’t buy feminine hygiene products
  • I couldn’t buy deodorant or powder
  • I couldn’t buy toothpaste or a toothbrush
  • and if I had a young child, a family member with a disability or an elderly family member with incontinence issues, I couldn’t buy DIAPERS to keep them clean and comfortable.

Yes, I would still have food in my cart and I would be able to feed my kids that night, thank goodness. But it’s important to remember that just because a family can shop at a grocery store with the help of food stamps doesn’t mean they can get everything they need.

As a Diaper Bank, we focus on diapers as a basic hygiene need and one that is not paid for or provided by any federal assistance program, not WIC, Food Stamps or Medicare. But there’s no ignoring the fact that NO hygiene needs are covered by these assistance programs, and it’s a larger conversation that needs to be had.

We expect kids to show up clean and healthy for school and perform as well as other kids, regardless of what they’re dealing with at home. We tell parents to go make a good impression in that interview and get that job. But when people don’t have access to basic hygiene items at home to keep them clean and healthy, they can’t compete on an even playing field. They don’t feel good, they don’t look good, they may not even smell good and it DOES affect them – their self-worth is diminished, they are more self-conscious, they feel shame and embarrassment. It will affect their performance at school and at work – if they make it to/through that interview. Do we think a kid that has to use fast-food napkins at home for toilet paper DOESN’T know he’s different?

basin

We know SNAP (food stamps) is a program under the Department of Agriculture. We get that the likelihood of food stamps ever being stretched to cover non-food items is zip to nil under the USDA. But with technology today, how is it not possible to make an additional subsidy (through the Department of Health and Human Services?) available to families using food stamps to purchase basic hygiene supplies? Barcode technology should make it possible to limit what can be bought to hygiene basics. Hyperbolic howls about “entitlements!” are sure to rise, but a realistic conversation has to be had about what people NEED to get by in America – to get that job, to feel confident at school, to succeed and be independent – besides just food, clothing and housing.

As long as the gaping hole in the safety net exists that doesn’t allow struggling families to have access to basic hygiene items – soap, toilet paper, feminine hygiene products, and yes, DIAPERS – things needed to compete, to be independent, to “fit in” and “be normal” by today’s social mores, those families will remain at a major disadvantage in society, and left further behind.

We need to do more. It’s easier said than done, I know, but we need to start acknowledging that a very basic need of people is to be CLEAN – to retain their dignity and self-confidence and to know they’re keeping their kids clean and healthy, just as much as they need food on the table, if they’re expected to perform equally and independently in this country.

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2 Comments »

  1. Bravo! Well-said! This is exactly what people like Tavis Smiley and Cornel West are saying. The playing field is NOT level.

    And while I’m up on my soap box, can I just say … every time I have to buy feminine hygiene products, which are not cheap in case anyone’s wondering, I think, “Oh yeah, THIS is what I want to be spending my money on!” And it seems very unfair to me that these burdens fall on the females of this society. Is there something I’m not thinking of that MEN have to buy, regardless if they want it or not? I can’t think of anything …

    So, yeah, Rush Limbaugh, by all means, let WOMEN pay for CONTRACEPTION too!

    Sorry, kind of went off on a tangent there!

    Comment by Terresa — April 25, 2012 @ 1:19 PM


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The Detroit Area Diaper Bank was a 501c3 charity that provided diapers to nonprofit organizations in Southeast Michigan from 2009-2014. No federal assistance programs pay for or provide diapers, not WIC, Food Stamps or Medicare. Diapers are a huge hole in the "safety net" for our youngest and oldest neighbors in need. Please continue to donate and make a difference with diapers in Metro Detroit!

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