Real Stories

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

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 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:

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 ( 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.


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.


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.

CA Safety-Net Program Cuts: Tell Us Your Story!

“A society in crisis should not throw women, children, and seniors overboard first.” ~ California Assemblymember Noreen Evans

This week there does not seem to be a whole lot of media coverage regarding the Governor’s proposed program cuts. Thank you San Jose Mercury News and the Los Angeles Times for practicing real journalism and covering the story.

Are you a parent who will be directly effected IF the state’s safety-net programs CalWORKS orHealthy Families are CUT out of the budget? Please TELL US YOUR STORY by posting a comment HERE (you can post anonymously).  We want to hear REAL STORIES from REAL FAMILIES on how this will directly change your life.

Per California Assemblymember Noreen Evans’ budget blog, here is a partial list of services that will be effected should the cuts happen:

· Elimination of the CalWORKs program;
· Elimination of the Healthy Families Program;
· Eliminating certain Medi-Cal state-only programs;
· Elimination of community based services programs at the Department of Aging;
· Eliminate State funding for Community Care Licensing;
· Elimination of remaining General Fund for Maternal, Child, and Adolescent Health;
· Elimination of funding for community clinic programs, such as Rural Health Services and the Seasonal and Agricultural and Migratory work programs;
· Elimination of funding for drug treatment programs established by the voters through Proposition 36;
· Reducing in-home supportive services eligibility and care provider pay;
· Reducing funding for foster care rates; and
· Reducing SSI/SSP monthly payments benefiting the aged and disabled to the minimum allowed under federal law.

Dear readers, please forward this post to anyone who may want to share their story.

The perfect storm for child abuse

What happens when you have a family that is financially strapped and unable to meet the basic necessities of a child? Since the recession hit, there is an uptick of reported child abuse cases.

Reuters reports on what doctors at Boston’s Children’s Hospital see:

“We’re finding that it is directly attributable to what is happening economically,” she said. “Many of the hospitals around here report an increase of 20 to 30 percent of requests for consultation regarding suspected child maltreatment.”

Many cases bear the imprint of economic troubles, like a 9-year-old diabetic boy hospitalized after his mother, a single parent, could no longer afford insurance co-payments needed to treat his disease. She left him home alone for long stretches on days when he required medical attention.

“She had difficulty with the bare bone things that would keep this child healthy,” said Scobie.

Add to the mix overwhelmed social service agencies and we have the perfect storm for prolonged child abuse.