Must Reads

Diaper Shortages Leave Low-Income Kids Behind Before They Can Even Walk

This post originally appeared at TalkPoverty.org and is reposted with permission.

Ask a county social worker, a food bank director, or any organization that assists families in low-income communities, and you will likely learn that they all experience a similar predicament each month. They do not have enough diapers. Diapers are the most requested basic need item, and organizations always run out.

Unmet diaper needs impact families’ ability to work and the public health of the communities where they live. Because diapers are required by most child care facilities, lack of diapers can reduce access to work and poor diapering can facilitate the spread of disease in public spaces.

According to The Diaper Bank, an adequate supply of diapers cost $100 or more per month. Making things worse, safety net programs such as TANF, SNAP and WIC do not allot money for diapers. Benefits themselves are already low. In California, the maximum TANF benefit—which provides cash assistance—is no more than 40% of the federal poverty level (around $670 per month for a family of three). According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, there isn’t a state in the country with a TANF benefit higher than ½ of the federal poverty line. To get by, families report diapering less. Some even report that their infants or toddlers have spent a day or longer in one diaper, which not only leads to potential health risks for the baby, but also puts them at risk for social, emotional and behavioral problems, according to aPediatrics study.

Here in California, there are eleven diaper banks that are part of the National Diaper Bank network. Meeting the unmet diaper needs of very young children with donated diapers is their business, and they too report shortages on a regular basis and admit to covering only a small percentage of the state.

This is what I learned when I started advocating in support of a bill introduced in California this year by Assembly Member Lorena Gonzalez and Senator Holly Mitchellto address the growing unmet need among poor families with infants and toddlers. The idea that we need legislation to address unmet diaper needs usually gets a chuckle out of most people at first. However, the grim reality is that a lack of an adequate supply of diapers can have severe mental, emotional, and developmental impacts on parents and children. In response, Assembly Bill 1516 would provide an $80 per month diaper supplement to eligible children receiving public assistance and would create a public-private partnership fund to help facilitate the distribution of financial donations and diaper contributions to the neediest of families.

My work on the bill is through the Women’s Policy Institute (WPI) at the Women’s Foundation of California. The WPI trains women about how the legislative process works and how to advocate for legislative change. Since I am a single mom who knows how costly it can be to keep an infant adequately diapered and how difficult it can be to try to figure it out on your own, I am motivated to make the most of this opportunity. Still, I am most inspired by the personal stories and the sense of how real policy decisions can impact real people’s lives.

A mother I know who has three little girls is one of these real people whose story has inspired me. She was working several jobs, but was still living under the poverty line and receiving just over $100 a month in TANF assistance, when extra hours at work and $20 more in her paycheck made her ineligible for the TANF program.

She lacked job security at her hourly jobs, and the loss of the income from TANF left her family on unstable footing. As a result, she struggled to meet her children’s basic needs. She told me about how she forced her children to potty train way before they were ready to save money and about her feelings of being overwhelmed with stress during this period in her family’s life.

Throughout the legislative session, the team of advocates working on this bill has heard other powerful testimonies about the consequences for children when parents are unable to make it through the end of each month without reusing lightly soiled diapers or prolonging periods between diaper changes.

I don’t know if Assembly Bill 1516 will pass and, if it gets passed, if it would get signed. But I hope that its introduction has helped to educate lawmakers in our state’s Capitol about the great risks associated with deep poverty and unmet diaper needs and to inspire them to do something about it.  I also know that bills like this one, which tackle the real needs of real people and real policy solutions, are desperately needed from Sacramento to Albany and in every state capitol in between.  Until we confront the human and fiscal costs associated with allowing children to live in deep poverty and the deep inequities that start at birth, our poorest children will be hampered by unequal footing before they even learn to walk.

Alysia Cox is a single mother (of a five-year-old) and dedicated advocate for low-income families. She currently serves as a Community Development Commissioner for the city of Richmond, California. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in Communication from The University of California, Davis. She is also a 2013-14 Women’s Policy Institute Fellow through the Women’s Foundation of California. 

Clara

We shared “Clara’s” story, as told by her case manager, La Tanya, at our annual event in March. Her name and some details of her story are changed for privacy.

Good morning. My name is LaTanya. I’m a case manager at the CVC. Since my son Eli was born, the idea of running out of diapers horrifies me, and makes me grateful for programs like Help A Mother Out. Every time I purchase diapers for Eli, I think about all the moms who can’t afford to do the same.

For the last 14 years I have worked directly with homeless families, and I know that access to diapers can make food, medicine and shelter possible for low-income families. Until started working at CVC I had never heard of programs that donate diapers and always daydreamed with coworkers that one day we’d be able to provide them. Help A Mother Out made my dreams a reality.

Today I’m here to tell you about one mom and her family: Clara and her two sons. Andre is her youngest son. He is 7 years old and has autism. Matthew is her oldest son who is 17 years old. He is about to graduate from high school and has dreams of going to college.

I met Clara a few months ago, after Help A Mother Out connected her with me. When I called Clara, she was crying. She explained to me that she was a single mom, working as a part time medical clerk, and she was having an especially hard time. Andre has autism. He has no verbal skills and hasn’t retained any sign language. So potty training has been extremely difficult for her. She kept apologizing to me over the phone for needing help.

That day I talked to her three times. It became clear to me early on that Clara was extremely isolated, and did not know about resources were available to her family. The more I talked to her, the more I felt helpless.  So many women like Clara get lost, because they don’t know about resources that could help.

I told Clara about MediCAL – because Andre is an older child with special needs, she could ask his doctor about prescription for diapers. She told me that Andre hasn’t been to see a doctor in awhile. We agreed that she would come into see me.

On the day she came to see me, the first thing I did before conducting a needs assessment interview, was give her diapers for Andre. She wasn’t expecting the help and seemed really shocked and kept saying “god bless you, thank you for helping me.” She cried uncontrollably. She could not believe that someone was helping her family.

Clara seemed worn down from taking care of her son with virtually no help. It was clear to me that she was a loving mother, but at her wits end with caring for Andre. She was under an incredible amount of emotional stress. As he has grown older, Andre has become more difficult to care for. The few relatives they have in the area have abandoned them. Clara, Andre and her older son Matthew are now homeless. They live in a friend’s garage.

After our first visit, I walked Clara and Andre to their car. After Andre was settled, Clara turned to me and gave me one of the longest hugs I’ve received in my life. It seemed to last for 20 minutes. It was the kind of hug where you literally feel the raw emotions and sadness from the other person, but also the kind of hug that there was hope. I became overwhelmed with emotion knowing that with Help A Mother Out, I could have this kind of impact on a family.

I think that even if I had just given her 4 diapers she would have been just as thankful. She kept saying thank you. God bless you. I’m so glad that I met you. I am shaken from the experience. Being able to help her that day gave me confirmation that I am in the right profession.

If Clara were here today, she would tell you that she came to me for diaper help, but that these diapers from Help A Mother Out ended up bringing the help and resources she desperately needed. Today Clara, Andre and Matthew are still living in that garage. Andre is in the process of getting enrolled in occupational therapy and he is scheduled to see a doctor for the first time in years. It’s going to be a long road for them but we are in the process of getting them the help they need and deserve – and we have the diapers to thank for starting this journey.

I’m here to tell you that diapers DO change lives and I’m really honored to be part of this program that truly makes a difference. I hope you will be too.

Thank you.

 

* “Clara” image via Babble.com

Curt’s Story: In Honor of Father’s Day

In honor of Father’s Day, we want to share a moving testimonial from a father.

Curt’s story was highlighted at our annual Let Good Grow event by Phoebe Rubin. Phoebe is a volunteer at our partner agency, the Bayview Mission, a ministry of Grace Cathederal in San Francisco.

Here is what Phoebe shared with us:

I am a mother and the idea of running out of diapers horrifies me. That’s why I’ve volunteered at the baby ministry at Bayview Mission in San Francisco for the last four years.

I’ve given out diapers hundreds of diapers to families, and I know that access to diapers can mean the difference between having food, medicine and shelter—and not having those things.

I’m want to tell you about one family in particular. Curt is in his early 40’s and takes care of his baby Mia full time. Before his accident, Curt was a college-educated artist who made large metal sculptures and did construction work to pay the bills. Not anymore. Curt’s leg was badly injured when he fell from a 3rd story window at work. Surgery on Curt’s leg was botched, and his request for a second surgery was denied. Now, walking is a challenge for Curt. He lives on disability. One of the few times he goes out each week is when he comes to the ministry to pick up diapers and baby food for Mia.

Knowing Curt has made me grateful for my health, and the health of my family. That’s because Curt told me: that he never, in all of his life, dreamed that he would lose his health.  Curt grew up in a middle-class family. He never imagined himself disabled, needing help, instead of working and creating his art.  I bet many of you can hardly imagine that either.

About 3.5 years ago, Help a Mother Out started bringing diapers to our ministry. To us volunteers, being able to help families like Curt’s felt like winning the lottery. I have to admit that I look forward to seeing Curt roll up in his car each week with Mia.  He is such a well-informed and fun person. Every week I learn something new from him about local politics or current events.

Curt would say that diapers from Help a Mother Out have made it possible for him to buy things his family could not survive without. Instead of worrying about how to buy diapers, Curt can concentrate on parenting Mia. And that investment is paying off big time. Mia is a happy well taken care of baby.

Because of HAMO, Curt can do what he needs to do for his family—and his own health–rather than worrying about diapers. One day a few weeks back, after providing diapers for Curt dozens of times, there was a day when we ran out. The need is so enormous that, even though HAMO works around the clock, they can’t always provide diapers for every baby. I had to go out to Curt’s car and turn him away. He took the news calmly, but I wondered what was going through his mind, facing the week without HAMO’s help.  As I turned to go back inside, my heart felt heavy.  At that moment, it struck me what an enormous thing a diaper really is, and what a difference it can make in a life.  I’m happy to say that I gave Curt a bundle of diapers this week, thanks to HAMO.  Curt thanked me, and I thank HAMO for making lives like Curt’s, and his baby Mia’s, easier.

Curt’s story reminds us to be grateful for what we do have while encouraging us to remember that there are those who encounter unexpectedly difficult challenges in life.

As you honor the fathers in your life, we want to thank you for all that you do for dads like Curt.

How will you celebrate Father’s Day?

Thank You For Helping Us Show the Power of Parents!

This just in:  Help a Mother Out is featured in the March 2013 issue of Parents Magazine! A big thank to all of you for making it possible for us to keep helping babies, and applause to Parents for sharing our mission with their readers, and for their support!

Who We Serve

Since inception we’ve distributed diapers to a number of organizations in California and elsewhere in the U.S.  Between January, 2011 and January, 2012 we served families through the following agencies. Thank you to everyone who contributed to making this happen! Special thanks go to our friends at Huggies Every Little Bottom and St. Vincent de Paul of Alameda County. 

Southern California

  • Ascencia (LA County)
  • Building a Generation (Inland Empire)
  • LA Diaper Drive (LA County)
  • Salvation Army,East Los Angeles Community Center (LA County)
  • Bayside Community Center (San Diego County)

Northern California

Alameda & Contra Costa Counties

  • Brighter Beginnings
  • Center for the Vulnerable Child (Children’s Hospital of Oakland)
  • Oakland Early Head Start
  • St. Vincent de Paul of Alameda County (West Oakland Women’s Center)
  • Operation Shower
  • Prenatal Care Guidance (PCG), a program of the Contra Costa Public Health Dept.
  • Women’s Daytime Drop-in Center (WDDC)

Monterey County

  • Monterey County Association of Families Caring for Children

San Francisco County

  • Homeless Prenatal Program (HPP)
  • Bayview Mission
  • APA Family Support Services (APA)

San Mateo and Santa Clara Counties

  • Baby Basics of the Peninsula
  • Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital at Stanford (Social Services)
  • Star Vista (formerly YFES)
  • Creation Home Ministries
  • West Valley Community Services
  • City Team Ministries, San Jose
  • EHC Lifebuilders

Please Read: Leave it to the Big O, aka my Oprah story

A mother whose child did not yet have medical insurance had to use the last of her money to pay for medicine. This left her without money for diapers so we gave her a few days supply. Those diapers made all the difference.

~ Peggy, Social Worker

Dear Friends,

Before I co-founded Help A Mother Out (HAMO) I was a stay at home mom, focused on raising my two young children (then ages 9 months and 3 years old). I remember poring over countless parenting books and blogs, and fretting about whether my kids were getting enough sleep, nutrition, and intellectually stimulating experiences. And while I wasn’t keenly aware of it then, I now know that my husband and I are extremely blessed to be able to provide the most basic needs for our kids.

On a day in February 2009, after viewing the Oprah Winfrey show about how the Great Recession was impacting struggling families, I knew I had to do something to help. My first thought was to host a children’s clothing drive, but after reaching out to a handful of social service agencies, I learned about diaper need. The thought of a young child spending the entire day in the same diaper just broke my heart. I quickly learned that reliable access to diapers is the cornerstone for healthy babies, healthy communities, and a family’s ability to thrive.

Everyday I am grateful that HAMO gets to do something about this problem. Everyday I am in awe that a home grown project with a start up investment of $100, could help so many struggling families, as well as inspire action in many others (including many of you!). Together we have done a lot of good. Nearly 750K diapers have been distributed through our network of partners, including homeless centers, family resource centers, public health departments, and food pantries. Equally important, we have raised awareness and advocated for needy families. And, we’ve accomplished all of this on a tiny budget.

We are proud of our accomplishments, but the truth is our organization has a lot of work ahead of us. Our vision is a day when every baby has an adequate supply of diapers, and for every agency we have been able to help, we have had to turn two away due to lack of resources. Advocating for and getting diapers to families in need takes real financial resources. We are inviting you to “adopt” Help A Mother Out this holiday season.

For us to do our crucial work we need funds to pay for general operating and program expenses. You may think that your gift of $30, $50, $100, or any amount that is meaningful to you, may be just a drop in the bucket, but in reality, your help is actually what makes this whole operation possible. Since we started Help A Mother Out, 85-percent of monetary gifts collected have come from individuals like you.

Thank you for helping us to help more mothers, children, and caregivers in 2012.

Wishing you and your family peace, joy and abundance,

Lisa Truong, co-founder, executive director

On behalf of the entire Help A Mother Out family and network

p.s. We are pleased and very grateful to announce between November and December 31st, our friends at Huggies Every Little Bottom will match your monetary gift for unrestricted funds, with an in kind diaper donation – up to 300K diapers. Your timing doesn’t get any better to help.Thank you for your generosity and believing in our work.

SoCal: #BlogHer11 Virtual Diaper Drive #hamo

This coming week some of the team will be at BlogHer ’11.

In case you haven’t heard, we’re hosting a service project to coincide with the conference, in hopes of raising much needed diaper funds we’d like to raise to benefit our Southern California families. Specifically, we have three agencies located in San Diego, Inland Empire, and east Los Angeles, who are currently on the waiting list to receive diapers.

Whether you are attending the conference or not, you can help us make a difference.

Bonus: We’re giving away an iPad, generously donated by our friends at Momversation, to one lucky online donor. And as of this writing, your chances look really good to win!

How you can help:

Spread the word about our virtual diaper drive. Official rules and more good stuff can be found via our event page.

Your online gift of $10 or more enters you to our iPad giveaway contest. Go ahead, click the BLUE button and help a mother out!

Meet La Tanya

Part of what we hope to do this year is bring you guys closer to the folks who are benefiting from all the diapers you raise. Back in December I received a desperate email from a social worker by the name of La Tanya.

La Tanya found us by chance.  She picked up Parent’s Press, and saw our mention in it. She works with homeless families at the Center for the Vulnerable Child (CVC), run by Children’s Hospital of Oakland (CHO). You wouldn’t believe the lengths she has gone to obtain diapers. If you were in a situation where you needed a social worker, you’d want someone just like her.

So a few days before Christmas, with my car loaded with diapers,  I went to visit La Tanya to learn more about the families the CVC serves.

What is a vulnerable child?

According to CVC, vulnerable children live in environments that may put them at risk for social, educational, physical, or mental health problems. Families facing poverty, unstable housing or substance abuse are just a few examples of vulnerable populations. They include homeless children, families in transition, and foster children.

CVC serves about 450 families annually all over the East Bay including Oakland, Berkeley, and Richmond. They even serve foster children who are living as far away as Stockton, since Medi-Cal rules dictate children must continue to receive care (e.g., go to the doctor, see a mental health therapist) in the county they originated from.

As it is with many social workers, diapers are like gold for La Tanya. In the past, she has had to rely on the kindness of personal friends who send gift cards so that she can purchase diapers for her clients. Diapers are so expensive in the Oakland inner city that in the past she has gone to the big box store to personally purchase diapers for her clients.

Some clients have admitted to her they sell their food stamps so they can afford diapers. Some of her clients have collected aluminum cans to redeem for money to purchase diapers and other hygiene needs. Some clients have admitted to reusing diapers. Many clients are reluctant to even talk about their need for diapers, because they fear agencies like Child Protective Services will take their children away. They are so scared, in fact, that they will neglect to mention it when they come to see the doctor at the free medical clinic.

When she doesn’t have diapers, La Tanya sends her families across town by bus. In west Oakland,  St. Vincent de Paul’s distributes TWO diapers.

We’ve been able to make additional donations to the  CVC due to the support from all of you guys. La Tanya and everyone at the CVC now have supplemental diapers they can give families who are struggling.

Big shout out to our Bay Area contributor, Janice, who has been managing the newest donation point at the Nurture Center in Lafayette and helping to shuttle diapers to places like CVC and WDDC! Thanks Janice!

Cora’s Story

This is a guest post from our friend Kristine Brite (@kristinebrite). Kristine was one of our first supporters on Twitter and we actively followed her pregnancy and birth of her baby girl Cora.  Thank you Kristine, for sharing Cora’s story with our readers. You inspire so many with your strength and determination.

***

My first thought when I saw my positive at-home pregnancy test: “How are we going to pay for this?”

For years, I’d heard the mantra chanted over and over, “babies are expensive.”

I worried about buying all the baby paraphernalia, stretching our budget for diapers, wipes and all the other baby stuff. This positive pregnancy test shocked me. Needless to say, this was an unplanned pregnancy. My now husband, then fiancé, just asked me to marry him three months before the positive test. Nine months before he popped the question, we fled our duplex just before eviction to move back to my hometown and in with my mother. Without the help of family, we would have been on the streets.

Preparing for a newborn while living on the edge

The nine months between near eviction and engagement, our financial situation improved little by little. My husband, Ben, and I planned on moving to our own apartment within a month or two. We couldn’t provide for a baby I despaired.

Within weeks of finding out I was pregnant, I was laid off from my position with Google working as a temporary quality rater. I spent my pregnancy tapping every resource I could. Pride flew out the window. I explained to my family and friends that this is what government resources were made for, people like us struggling but fighting none the less. We signed up for WIC, food stamps and Medicaid. I found a local charity that provided us with a new and beautiful crib. Our families again saved the day giving generous baby shower gifts knowing our financial situation.

We depended on the loans and grants my husband received to go to school. The chances of me, a pregnant lady with a journalism degree, finding employment in the midst of a recession weren’t good.

I worried about having enough diapers. The prices shocked me. I turned into crazy couponing hoarder lady. I hunted online sites for the best deals around town and clipped every coupon I could find. I argued with store cashiers and managers who thought the deals I found were too good to be true and didn’t want to honor them. Ben’s school loan checks only come twice a year, so I braced for the bad times by purchasing diapers in all sorts of sizes. Soon we had hundreds and hundreds of diapers.

My water broke while I flipped through my coupon binder looking for good deals because I worried we didn’t have enough diapers or baby supplies to last us through the tight months to follow.

A story of life and death

My daughter, Cora Mae, cried for two hours straight when she was born November 30, 2009. I felt happiness I didn’t know was possible. I remember feeling like I joined the secret parent club that day. No one could prepare me for the love and pride I felt. I awakened that night and became a new person. Instantly, patience, compassion, and pure joy reverberated through me.

Despite the economic stress, my pregnancy was healthy. Labor and delivery went smoothly. The nurses and doctors reassured me Cora was in perfect health. I bragged about the nines she received on her Apgar tests after birth.

We brought Cora home on schedule after two days. I woke up every few hours in the night to feed her. Five days after she was born, we had a feeding unlike the others. One minute she suckled sweetly from my breast, the next moment her face was covered in blood and she wasn’t breathing. Cora died in my arms while breastfeeding.

Baby Cora (Photo from http://instructionsarenotincluded.blogspot.com/)

We later found out she had an unknown congenital heart disease, or CHD.  Ben and I looked up congenital in the dictionary. We’d never heard of CHD. I didn’t understand how somebody so perfect looking could have such a serious heart problem nor how it went undetected. I reached out through Twitter and learned congenital heart defects are way to common, affecting about 1 in 100 babies. I soon learned of the need for advocacy and fundraising and started the journey into fighting for Cora by spreading her story.

After Cora’s death, I knew I had to share the changes she made in me. Her love and beauty would only multiply, I vowed.

My daughter lives through my actions

Just thinking about Cora’s nursery constricts my chest and makes me hold my breath. The nursery represents hours of hard work fighting to provide for my daughter. For the first days, we went in the nursery often. Now we both tend to avoid it. A day or two after Cora died, I opened up her closet and looked at the stacks of diapers. I instantly knew where they belonged. I thought of a woman I was following on Twitter who championed for mothers who were even more desperate than I had been. I contacted Lisa from Help a Mother Out to ask how I could help. She quickly shot back a message with the name of a homeless shelter about 30 miles from me in Fort Wayne, Indiana with diapers on their Web site’s wish list.

For Cora’s one month birthday, Ben and I decided to load up our minivan and drop off 12 packs of various size diapers from our stockpile. I counted before we left, the 12 packs held 583 diapers. We also dug into our baby wipes supply and donated a couple of tubs.

Before we headed up to the homeless shelter I called. The woman on the phone told me, yes, they needed diapers. In fact, a 7-week-old infant called the shelter home right then. I learned this shelter catered to women and children and let them live there for several months while providing classes and assistance for them to become self-sufficient.

I knew nothing about this mom or baby. The image of tiny infant feet, curled and wrinkled, popped into my head. I might not be able to see this mom and baby, but they weren’t invisible to me. I thought of how we struggled and multiplied the struggle by a hundred.

Cora's gift underneath the homeless shelter's Christmas tree

Driving home from the shelter, my younger sister called Ben. He described our experience and told her “When you think you’ve got it rough, think of a mom with a 7-week-old baby in a homeless shelter.”

***

Kristine started as a newspaper reporter back when newspapers were still relevant. She is currently transitioning to lobbyist, fundraiser, and awareness raiser after the sudden death of her newborn daughter, Cora. She fights in her daughter’s name for mandatory congenital heart disease screeningfor all newborns and spends any free time spreading Cora’s story. She graduated from Indiana University. She blogs about her daughter at instructionsarenotincluded.blogspot.com. For more information about Cora or congenital heart disease become a Facebook fan of Cora’s Story.

Please take a moment to post a comment for Kristine below.

Carolyn’s Thoughts on a Monday, Cook for the WDDC

We wanted to share a little glimmer of hope that many of you have had a big part of. This is a guest post from WDDC’s Monday cook, Carolyn.

***


Photo credit: www.sistersproject.org

I often wish news agencies would publish more hopeful, positive articles in this era of, more often than not, bad news. So I thought I’d give a shout out to those folk who quietly make the world a better place. I cook lunch every week at a women’s shelter (Women’s Day-time Drop in Center in Berkeley). This center is located in a small house next door to a playground and staff by some of the kindest and dedicated folks.

Here’s a snapshot of my Mondays.

As I peel carrots or slice bread in preparation for lunch I’m in awe of all the folks who make that possible. My kitchen partner, Sandy, who’s showed me the ropes with her 15 years of weekly volunteer experience at the shelter, Then there’s the 91 year-old gent who picks up leftover bread from local bakeries and drops it off. We smile when we see him as he’s spry and in his vision of a perfect society he’d like to “put us out of business” as he hopes there would be no need for homeless shelters. Amy stops by each week with produce from her garden so I can put fresh chard in a frittata and than there’s Victor who bring us extras—pasta from Chez Panisse or tomatoes from the Farmer’s market. David, a general contractor showed up yesterday to rebuild the bookcases and put shelves in the storage shed and Wendy leads a craft session each week with the ladies. I love the smiles on the client’s faces as they show off a necklace or earrings they just made. Lisa and Rachel show up with diapers, toiletries and school supplies as they are running a back-to-school drive through a website they have created (helpamotherout.org) So when the world news gets me I look forward to my Mondays.

– Carolyn Weil, Monday cook for the WDDC

By donating diapers to our campaign you are directly supporting our partners like WDDC. Together we’ve made a difference Bay Area and beyond. Thank you for being a part of this.

Happy Holidays to you and yours.