This is the story of our newest partner the DC Diaper Bank as told by Corinne Cannon, founder and Executive Director of the DC Diaper Bank.
In October 2009 my husband Jay and I welcomed our first baby, a beautiful boy named Jack who turned out to be the world’s worst baby. Colicky, restless, high needs, call it what you will, he was awful! I distinctly remember sitting up with him one night/morning at 5am rocking him as he cried and thinking, “how do you do this if you don’t have enough money and family support?” Here I was with a ton of support — grandparents and aunts and uncles, a wonderful partner who was a 100% parent, and we were financially secure — and yet I still had days where I just couldn’t believe how hard it was.
I began to think about other mothers and about how I could help make raising an infant easier for people who lacked support. Then I began to research — I found out that diapers, something it seemed like we were buying all the time for Jack, weren’t covered by food stamps. I learned about the Diaper Bank in Connecticut and the one in Southern Arizona, and I saw an ad for the Huggies Every Little Bottom Campaign. I decided I would volunteer at the diaper bank in our area — it would become our charity of choice and we’d be helping mothers in a very tangible way. But then I found out there was no diaper bank in DC or Maryland or Virginia, or even Delaware or West Virginia.
I began to call non-profits who worked with mothers in DC and asked if they needed diapers for their clients and if so how they got them. The answers were striking and sad — one organization told me diapers were their number one need; another quickly rattled off the sizes they were most in need of. I decided after those phone calls to start a diaper bank — and we’ve been moving forward ever since. The response has been amazing! Dozens of diaper drives, donations from near and far, emails of support and thank you from strangers, and lots and lots of diapers! We have been lucky to partner with the Capital Area Food Bank, the largest food bank in the metro area, for storage and distribution of the diapers we collect. Initially we are working with eight social service organizations in DC, MD, and VA and are hoping to expand to more soon. The response from the organizations has been tremendous — diapers are a resource that they are always in need of. We feel strongly about providing diapers to organizations to use in ways that will best serve their clients – some organizations are food pantries and provide diapers as an emergency supply; others distribute them as an incentive for attendance at parenting classes; one low-income daycare uses them in their center.
I never intended to start a non-profit, but the need was too great to not do something and I knew this was a small piece of the puzzle that I could impact. I find that the “needs” in our community can be daunting to the point of paralysis sometimes — how do we tackle entrenched poverty? How do we build a society that values children and women? How do we create a social safety net that supports and propels families toward real self-sufficiency and stability? How do we all come to a place of truly understanding that things like food and shelter and diapers (and tampons and soap….) are not luxury items but basic necessities that no one should go without? I don’t know the answers to all of those questions, but I do know that it starts with simple, tangible, daily action.
Our mission statement, which some people have told us is far too grand for an organization that provides diapers, is about thinking about the issue of need in our community as something we all can and should impact — start small and build. Small individual actions like talking about child poverty; sharing a link about the issue; donating a pack of diapers or a few dollars; being an informed member of the community who asks questions about how new legislation or policies will impact those who are least able to ask that question for themselves; being a voice. Larger collective actions include large-scale diaper drives in neighborhoods, at businesses and day cares, and volunteering with others on the issue of poverty. The DC Diaper Bank does some of all of these things every day with the idea and the faith that if more people know and understand the needs and how to help alleviate the need in the short term, as well as address the issues long term through policy and paradigm changes, we will get to the place where families have all they need to thrive.
When I began this someone told me that it was pointless, that a clean diaper only helped a baby in the short term. They aren’t wrong: one clean diaper doesn’t solve the issue of infant and child poverty. But this person had probably never spent any time with a crying baby! One clean diaper does improve the short term, and the short term can build the long term for a child. I was amazed by some of the research that showed just what kind of an effect something as simple as a regular supply of clean diapers can have on an entire family unit – babies are happier and healthier, which means parents are less stressed and are able to focus their resources more on strengthening their family.
DC, like many communities, is facing a lot of financial challenges, and due to the recession social services have been hit hard. Before we founded the DC Diaper Bank, organizations that worked with families relied on unexpected diaper donations, or sometimes were able to devote some “extra” funds to diaper purchases in a given month. There was no steady supply of diapers for any of these organizations. We’re hoping to become that reliable source for many of these area organizations, and allow them to more effectively serve their clients. This is the biggest response we have gotten from the other organizations – they are grateful to have a steady supply of something that, for one, is a constant need for many of their clients, and for another, is something that many donors do not immediately think of when they are putting together a charitable donation. Most people think canned or packaged food for a shelter or a food pantry, not packaged diapers. Our biggest challenge now is going to be to keep up the supply to match the ever-increasing demand.
Our goal is to one day “be out of business.” The large questions come looming back — how do you change food stamp policies? How do we provide for all in our society? How do we ensure every child, and every parent, has a fair chance to succeed? I think that the answer to all these questions, and the key to making the need for DC Diaper Bank and Help a Mother Out obsolete, lies in increasing understanding around these isues so that whole cities and states are compelled to act. Start small and build. There is a quote from Mother Teresa that I have above my computer that propels me forward each day: “Do not wait for leaders. Do it alone, person to person.” A speech won’t get us there — talking, questioning, teaching, and showing will. The speech comes at the end.
In just nine short months, we have put together an organization that I am truly proud of. We have a lot of work left to do, but it is heartening to hear from our partner organizations, who tell us that our diapers are out there right now, making lives better for babies and families all over our community.
Corinne tells me that Jack, that colicky baby, is now the most joyous and fun toddler.