Tucson: Diaper Bank Beginnings

I recently had the pleasure of sitting down to talk with Hildy Gottlieb and Dimitri Petropolis, founders of the nation’s first Diaper Bank, Diaper Bank of Southern Arizona formerly known as the Community Diaper Bank of Southern Arizona. I can only attempt to capture the enthusiasm and energy that they radiated in that meeting. Dimitri and Hildy are truly inspirational and it was an honor to have so much of their time. This is the first of several blog posts based upon the meeting.

It really is quite an ordinary strip mall office in mid-town Tucson. I’ve driven past it a thousand times and not given it a second thought. However, for the past 17 years or so the ideas hatching in that office have been far from ordinary and have had an extraordinary impact not only on the Tucson community, but communities across the country.

In 1994 the office was a realty business recently purchased by Hildy and Dimitri. Wanting to get back to the work that made a difference in the community, Hildy and Dimitri added consulting with local Native American tribes in sustainable, non-gaming development to their work. Nowhere in their business plan were diapers mentioned. Their work with diapers was not planned, just a bit of holiday giving gone wildly and wonderfully astray.

A couple days before Thanksgiving one of the staff members suggested that a donation of diapers to Casa de los Ninos, a local safe haven for children, might be a nice idea for the office’s charitable holiday donation. A week or so later that simple office donation had expanded into a diaper drive and then something much bigger. Rather than the typical exchanging of goods with their local business partners and fellow realtors Hildy and Dimitri sent out a message via their holiday card,

“Don’t give us _______. Give us a diaper.”

A little bit unorthodox, a little bit silly, but their partners and fellow realtors took to it and the diapers began to roll in. What if, they thought, we were to get a radio station in on this? Perhaps we could make it bigger still. They faxed all the local radio stations. Stone cold silence from most, a snicker from one, and then a peep, morning DJ Bobby Rich, at what was then Cloud FM, now MIX FM, called to say that this sounded like a good fit with Cloud. This sort of drive-by event wasn’t common back in ’94, but Bobby and his crew set up their equipment outside this small midtown office in the wee hours of the morning so that they could do the morning show and a diaper drive. It should be noted that 3 am in Tucson in December is cold, very cold, below freezing cold, so this was no small commitment. At the end of the first broadcast Bobby said “We’re in this for the long haul.” He meant it. Seventeen years later Bobby still does the diaper drive every December.

Hildy and Dimitri, along with their staff and Bobby Rich, collected over twenty thousand diapers that first drive in 1994. As the diapers rolled in so did the stories of impact. It became clear to Hildy and Dimitri that helping with this one basic need had a positive ripple effect: A parent may have received help with housing and job training, but if they have very young children they are often unable to take advantage of their job training; they can’t afford the disposable diapers that they have to leave at the childcare facility while they work. The inability to take an offered job is a devastating loss to families who are working hard to get back on their feet. The social safety net has a big gaping hole in it and its name is diapers. Help diaper a child and help a family escape poverty.

Next time: A Diaper Bank is Born and Lessons in Compassion


Photo courtesy of Creating the Future