Here Come The Huggies: A Fledgling St. Louis Diaper Bank Makes Its First Big Delivery

Earlier this month, a U-Haul made its way east from Kansas City to St. Louis with special cargo that researchers say will have a major impact on moms in need: 28,048 Huggies diapers.

Unloaded by a group of volunteers at St. Mary’s Health Center in Richmond Heights, the delivery marked a milestone for Jessica Adams of Kirkwood, the founder of the new St. Louis Area Diaper Bank. The diapers were the fledgling organization’s first major bulk purchase, made possible through money raised online.

Additionally, the diaper bank has gained the attention of a substantial backer and the aid of an agency that helps nonprofits succeed. Now it hopes to expand quickly to become the region’s primary collector and distributor of free diapers to dozens of organizations that help poor mothers and families.

Kansas City has been home to a successful diaper bank for five years, distributing more than 1 million diapers annually to more than 40 organizations. But the St. Louis area has gone without one, leaving maternal health organizations and other groups that help the poor on their own to find diapers for families that can’t afford them.

Last year, the Post-Dispatch reported on the dire need for diapers in the region among families who were making desperate choices, such as whether to buy food for their families or diapers. It costs about $100 a month to keep a baby properly in disposable diapers.

At the time those organizations said they could not keep up with demand. One group, Nurses for Newborns, said it could only give out about 12 diapers per client, on an emergency basis.

A food bank director said diapers were one of the first things parents asked for when they stepped in the door, yet the organization rarely had them on the shelves. Some parents settled for whatever they could get, using duct tape to adjust ill-fitting diapers. Others resorted to reusing diapers and others kept diapers on their babies longer than they knew they should.

The situation has an actual name: “diaper need.” And researchers in the social sciences and medical fields are concluding that it not only causes health and developmental problems for children, but depression in mothers. The problem has even been connected to child abuse, as babies cry more while in discomfort and their caregivers are overwhelmed and can’t bond as easily.

Adams, of the diaper bank, said the studies further suggest the diaper need was a bigger stress for moms than worries about providing food. Five years ago, after a divorce and struggling to finish graduate school, she found herself in the same situation.

“I’ve experienced personally that feeling of dread when you look at an empty pantry and when you look at an empty diaper bin. I asked myself, am I a good mom? And that stress was devastating,” Adams recalled. “It makes you snappier. It makes moms less emotionally available.”

Those feelings can sometimes lead to maternal depression or contribute to stress already in the household from poverty. When stress gets too high and is unrelenting, it can lead to toxic stress, which has been linked to bad health and behavioral outcomes for children.

Adams said interest in alleviating diaper need locally skyrocketed after the newspaper story in the spring of 2014. Many individuals and groups hosted their own diaper drives for specific organizations in the months that followed.

When Sarah Goebel, a local owner of Halloween Express franchises, read about diaper need in St. Louis, she contacted YouthBridge Community Foundation with hopes of supporting an area diaper bank. Youthbridge connects donors with nonprofits that serve youth.

“As a mother, I couldn’t imagine a child wearing a dirty diaper longer than necessary simply because the family can’t afford diapers,” said Goebel via email. “After talking to Jessica, I decided to help.”

The area diaper bank is currently forming a board of directors that will include Goebel, and is applying for its nonprofit status. In the meantime, YouthBridge has agreed to serve as its fiscal sponsor and is able to accept financial donations on the diaper bank’s behalf.

Once the formal diaper bank nonprofit is established, it will work to raise funds to rent or buy space for a needed storage and distribution center, enabling it to take direct donations of diapers in addition to financial donations. Once that is achieved, it will be able to join the National Diaper Bank Network, which will further enable it to make large bulk purchases of diapers at a vastly discounted price from the manufacturer of Huggies.

In the meantime, the fledgling diaper bank currently uses its donations to supply diapers to Parents as Teachers in the St. Louis Public Schools and the Sweet Babies program at St. Mary’s Health Center.

The diaper drop of nearly 30,000 Huggies earlier this month went to Sweet Babies, which distributes about 70 care bags a month to needy mothers.

Alice Provaznik founded Sweet Babies in 2010 while volunteering at St. Mary’s Health Center. She discovered nurses on their free time were buying baby clothes at garage sales, and then laundering them for moms they met in the labor and delivery unit who had very little.

Provaznik said the diaper bank’s donation gave the program an eight months supply for the moms’ care bags as well as additional bags for moms at Cardinal Glennon Children’s Medical Center. Some of those moms and their newborns must take a taxi from the hospital to a homeless shelter, Provaznik said.

“When they open that bag, and they see every piece of clothing and the diapers, they are extremely grateful because they have nothing,” she said.

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