Real Stories

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?

Viviana’s Story

Viviana was too ashamed to drop her child off to daycare without diapers, therefore would have missed school to remain home with her child. Thank goodness for Help A Mother Out, the Family Advocate was able to make an emergency drop-off to Viviana. She didn’t have to miss school and was able to take her child to daycare with clean diapers.
— Cynthia, Program Director, Brighter Beginnings, First 5 Resource Center

With your help, moms like Viviana are on the road to self sufficiency. Please consider sending a message of hope to our families with your gift today. In doing so you’re joining the HAMO family, working to sustain a much needed safety net in the year to come. Thank you for your generosity and commitment to our families.

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!

Last Day of the Month, Let’s Going Shopping for Diapers

Quickly, so in case you missed this NPR story about midnight shopping at Walmart. There’s been such a spike in middle of the night, last day of the month sales, that Walmart makes sure there are enough large packs of diapers and infant formula stocked on the shelves during this time of the month.

Food for thought.

Photo credit via Creative Commons 2.0: MarkJMS

You Can Help Stop the Shackling of Pregnant Inmates

Did you know that since 2005, it is illegal in California to shackle pregnant inmates while they are being transported to the hospital while in labor?

But did you know that in other instances, shackling of pregnant inmates is still legal?

According to The Guardian, ten U.S. states currently have shackling laws on the books (California, Colorado, Illinois, New Mexico, New York, Texas, Vermont, Washington, West Virginia and Pennsylvania).

California Legislation

In 2005, CA legislation was enacted with AB 478 (Lieber). As Salon.com previously wrote, this legislation states that no prisoner:

“shall not be shackled by the wrists, ankles, or both during labor, including during transport to the hospital, during delivery, and while in recovery after giving birth.”

Although the law has been in effect for some time, recently it has become evident that not all correctional officers are abiding by it in the jails and prisons across the state.

According to California NOW, our Golden State currently has the distinction of having the largest female inmate population of any state.

AB 1900 (Skinner)

New legislation is currently being considered to amend the 2005 law, enter AB 1900 (Skinner). If passed by the California legislature, the bill will prohibit shackling of pregnant women in county jails, state prisons and juvenile facilities at any time unless the woman presents a danger to herself or others.

You can peruse the documents related to this bill here.

Per Karen Shain, Policy Director at Legal Services for Prisoners with Children, a legal advocacy group based in San Francisco:

The bill comes out of the personal experience of a young mother who was incarcerated at Contra Costa County Jail during the bulk of her pregnancy.  She was shackled every time she went to court–oftentimes with a belly shackle and attached to a male prisoner.  She was also shackled at the hospital where she was admitted with pre-eclampsia–she was shackled to the bed, having to call a guard every time she needed to go to the bathroom.  Then she was attached to a large chain that would give her enough distance to be able to use a commode, but not enough to actually use the bathroom in her room!  While it is illegal for pregnant women to be shackled when going to the hospital when in labor, all other shackling of pregnant women is currently legal in California.

The bill will require that Corrections Standards Authority (CSA) set uniform standards across the State of California for how incarcerated pregnant women may be restrained.

As of August 12, 2010 the bill has passed the house and made it’s way to the senate, having been amended and a third reading has been ordered.

The HAMO Connection

Our partner agency Family, Maternal and Child Health Programs of Contra Costa county has a program, Lift Every Voice, that has been an integral part of raising awareness of this issue and advocating for this piece of legislation.

We here at HAMO believe that every baby matters and that every mother, regardless of her current status, deserves access to appropriate prenatal and postpartum care. This is a human rights issue, not only for the expectant mother, but also for the child she is carrying.

How You Can Help

1) Send a letter of support for AB 1900 to Nancy Skinner’s office in Sacramento, as well as a copy to your CA State Senator, (updated 8/18/10) and Governor Schwarzenegger.

Updated 8/18/10: The ACLU of Northern California has a handy tool for you to contact Governor Schwarzenegger. Find it by clicking here.

2) Spread the word to your network. Blog, Tweet, and Facebook it. Talk about it with your friends.

Any reporters reading this? If you email me I would be happy to put you in touch with our sources: lisa at helpamotherout dotorg.

We’d love to hear your thoughts on this issue. Had you heard about shackling pregnant women inmates previously? If you reside outside California, do you know your state’s policy on addressing this practice?

Image from: http://blogs.pitch.com/plog/2007/08/lately_western_missouri_seems.php

Bottoms Covered #ELB

We had an incredible community event on Wednesday June 30th, which we put together to celebrate our Every Little Bottom donation from Huggies.

Pictured above is one of our youngest volunteers handing out diapers to Mel S. from WDDC, one of our FIRST partner agencies. Mel is the volunteer coordinator whom we met a little over a year ago. WDDC took 50 cases of diapers on Wednesday. I think they’ll be able to give out more than 6 diapers per mom now.

We had about 8 agencies come by to celebrate the momentous occasion with us. The energy was amazing and everyone pitched it to do their share. It was… very grassroots.

Some of our original agencies were able to come and bring back truck and van loads of diapers (all large sizes!) to stock their shelves for the hot summer months. Moms loaded up their station wagons full of diapers to bring to more agencies.


Photo credit: Wendy Copley (http://wendolonia.com/blog/)

Whitney rallied her crew to join in and keep the diapers moving. Please note the crutches (She broke her foot a few days prior and still drove over to lend a hand!).

Wendy and her son W. came over to help load diapers and document the day. We loaded up her car with diapers to bring back to an east bay agency. Mike and his daughter E. came by and got down to business with the pallet jack. It was so great to see our youngest volunteers really wanting to be there “to help the babies.”

My friend Del helped organize the event and Steve just totally brought it together and made a lot of behind the scenes happen.

We are totally, we mean Totally, indebted to our friends at City-Core Development for donating space to house the diaper donation. Are you looking for office space to lease? Check them out and tell them we sent you 

At the distribution I had a great conversation with a social worker from a newer partner agency on the  peninsula. We were talking about how so many of her clients are struggling with the basics. Parents are working long hours and it literally comes down to paying the utility bill, putting food on the table, or keeping an adequate supply of diapers. She talked about how when she has diapers, which is not too frequent, she can give them to her clients and then they can focus on more solving more pressing issues.

It felt completely awesome to load up the social worker’s car with diapers for her clients. My hope is that we can figure out a way to continue the momentum this windfall donation helped start.

Big Hugs to Huggies for literally covering a whole lot of little bottoms the Bay Area this week. We’re having an amazing time bringing your diapers to moms who really need them!

Check out Wendy’s photos from the day:http://www.flickr.com/photos/wendycopley/sets/72157624272058027/

The Baby Boy Wears a Size 5: A Story from San Francisco’s Bayview

The other day I had the privilege to attend a private screening of a new short documentary film about our newest partner, the Bayview Mission. It was wonderful to see old friends and meet new ones, and learn more about the mission’s work.

For San Franciscans who don’t know, the Bayview Mission is a ministry started in 2004 by the Reverend Nina Pickerrell, and her many devoted volunteers at Grace Cathedral, the beautiful church and landmark on top of California Street. The mission is literally a beacon of hope inside the Bayview district, creating community through the food pantry that distributes every Monday afternoon. They supplement basic human needs and other supplies (groceries – including fresh produce!, clothing, school supplies, children’s books, and toiletries) to working families, the homeless, as well as any Bayview resident that comes to them in need of help.

And one of their highest needs is….diapers.

The Bayview/Hunter’s Point district of San Francisco is known as one of the most dangerous neighborhoods in California. For years, Bayview’s residents have been marginalized – both economically, and geographically from the rest of San Francisco. There are Bayview has the highest density of children in all of San Francisco, a 50-percent poverty rate, high levels of gang violence, has more liquor stores than grocery stores, and is predominately African-American.

The local Walgreens locks up diapers and formula.

Every Monday when the mission opens for food distribution, there are about 40 families who come to them and have a child in diapers. Diapers are in scarce supply at the mission. So much of an unmet need that, up until recently, they have only been able to distribute diapers once a month.

Nina and the mission’s volunteers told me story about a mom that usually comes to them on Mondays. She has a young child, as well as a 6 month old baby boy. Because she believes that larger sized diapers hold more, and therefore, are cheaper in cost, she puts the baby boy in size 5, even though he really fits a size 3. The baby is six months old and is still wearing newborn clothes, because the mother doesn’t have bigger clothes for him to wear. So his clothes are too tight, and he stays in the Size 5 diaper longer than he probably should.

It warmed my heart to hear that because of our very first diaper donation to the Bayview Mission, this baby boy got some of the perfect size of diapers when he came the next Monday.

And yet.

It also made me very sad to hear, the same story we hear time and again, that there are children, just like this baby boy, who go without something so basic as a diaper – here within the city limits of one of the most beautiful and affluent regions in the country.

SF Bay locals: You can help us continue this work by coming to support our event on May 2nd at Peekadoodle and/or pledging to host a drive in May. Please pass it on!

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.”

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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.

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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.

Knitting as Public Service

Photo via Becca

Today’s guest post is from Becca Freed, who was there for the birth of Help a Mother Out, even if she (and we) didn’t know it at the time. As she describes below, this past spring Becca organized a learn-to-knit benefit party for the Women’s Daytime Drop-In Center, which both Lisa and I attended. With apologies to Becca — who was a thoughtful, extremely patient instructor — for us the most salient lesson of the day was about the crucial work done by the WDDC, and about their urgent needs. That day, everything clicked, and a few days later, Lisa and I started sketching out a plan for a Mother’s Day diapers-and-wipes donation drive, newly dubbed Help a Mother Out. We may not have quite gotten the hang of knitting yet, but only because we’ve been too busy trying to make good on the connections and inspiration we got that day.

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Some knitters seem to think there is no problem that can’t be solved by knitting something. Whether it’s for servicepeople deployed to combat zones or a neighbor who’s lost everything in a house fire, a certain type of knitter will always leap into the breach and organize a drive to knit socks or a cozy blanket or a prayer shawl.

I’ve been knitting and crocheting since childhood, and don’t get me wrong–I’ve done my fair share of charity needlecraft, starting with granny-square lap robes for my local nursing home when I was in junior high. I just don’t think that knitting is the right response for every problem. For one thing, it’s slow. Do you know how long it takes to knit even a preemie cap? If handknits were really the solution to a problem, there would be a serious imbalance between supply and demand. That’s a bit facetious, but I wonder if all that knitting time wouldn’t be better spent lobbying or protesting for change, and whether knitted donations aren’t more about gratifying the the donor than fulfilling a need.

I had these doubts in mind when I approached the Women’s Daytime Drop-in Center and asked if they needed a knitting teacher. I suspected my own motives and wondered whether I was offering something frivolous. But the volunteer coordinator assured me that to teach knitting to homeless and low-income women was to give them something of value –that the center’s clients needed more than just food, clothing, and shelter. I was reminded by this that homeless women and children are whole people; by offering a knitting class I would be honoring their creative impulses.

I’ve been teaching knitting and crochet at the center for about a year and a half now, and I see that the women and older kids do benefit from it. I’ve seen a piece of knitting in someone’s hands that takes their mind off anxieties and drug urges. Knitting can fill time waiting in social service offices, or waiting for the overnight shelter to open in the evening. A handmade hat or bag could be something to sell. But more frequently the clients benefit from knitting or crocheting the same ways that I do: acquiring a new skill is stimulating and satisfying; needlecrafting with a group is a nice way to socialize; and there’s just plain sensual pleasure in having beautifully colored and textured yarn running through your fingers.

Teaching at the Drop-in Center is fairly different from conducting a class at, say, a yarn store. Unstructured is the name of the game. I never know who will be there or what their skill set will be, so having a specific lesson to get through or project to finish is out of the question. Most of the time I teach casting on and the basic knit stitch (the very first steps to learning how to knit) over and over–and that’s OK. The clients at the center don’t know where they will be from week to week, and sometimes their stuff gets stolen because they’re living in a shelter with no secure storage. It’s fine with me if they take their supplies with them, or I can hold onto them from week to week. If I have to give someone a fresh set of needles and yarn every time they come, that’s not a problem. I rely on donated materials (but fellow knitters keep me supplied with yarn), and I’ve found some cheap sources of needles and crochet hooks.

I have to be ready for anything, including women who challenge my skills; I’m not a great crocheter, so I’ve had to brush up in order to help them. Often women have learned from their mothers or grandmothers and just need a refresher, and then it’s very possible that they’ll surpass my know-how.

I also get challenged personally on occasion, maybe by a client who’s in a volatile mood and ready to argue. That’s one of the ways that this volunteer gig has forced me to stretch and step out of my own comfort zone. I’ve learned to stay calm (at least on the outside) and communicate assertively. Even if my first impulse is to get out of the conflict by leaving the situation, I can ride it out and retain a respectful relationship with the client (and still mostly respect myself).

As much as I doubted my motives when I began, I also doubted my abilities. I doubted that I would know how to talk to women with lives so different from mine, and I was afraid of inadvertently saying something insensitive. With the volunteer coordinator’s help, I came to understand that it doesn’t take any special skill to meet someone where they are. You just listen to them, and respond the way you’d like to be talked to yourself.

I’ve also never thought that I had what it takes to be a teacher–I lack patience, and I can have a sharp tongue. But I’ve learned that I do know how to impart this particular skill, step by step, to another person. I can say “No, that’s not it–do it this way” nicely and without frustration, and I can cheer a client on when she gets the tricky part, and makes it to the end of the row. The opportunity for this kind of personal growth has really been a gift from the women to me. And more than anything else, being able to share my enthusiasm for knitting is very rewarding–I get a charge out of watching the clients ooh and ah over yarn or admire what they’ve made.

Of course the center is constantly scrambling for funds–it takes a lot of money to provide services to 150 women and children a month, including lunch every weekday. Last spring I hosted a “learn-to-knit” party with a good friend, to raise funds for the center and raise its profile among my friends and acquaintances. As a moneymaker it was modestly successful, but snagging the support of Rachel and Lisa of Help a Mother Out was a huge win.

I hope my tale shows that sharing your passion with the world is not frivolous, and can reap benefits you never expected.

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You can help the Women’s Daytime Drop-In Center by purchasing supplies off their wishlist here. Enormous thanks to Becca for introducing us to both the WDDC and the world of knitting.