The Case for Diapers…

by | August 22, 2011

Our guest blog post is from Nancy Woodland, Executive Director of WestSide Baby in West Seattle.  WestSide Baby is a nonprofit organization that collects previously owned items for children and babies and distributes them free of charge to South King County families in need and the beneficiary of our upcoming Annual Charity Event and Diaper Drive on August 24.    


How well could you parent without diapers?  Imagine caring for your precious grandchild with an empty diaper bag.  Families in this community ration diapers, rinse out and reuse soiled disposable diapers and stretch one diaper over days.  They choose between paying rent, gassing the car or buying diapers. Working parents have to stay home and teen moms must miss school because their day care programs require a full day’s supply of disposable diapers dropped off with the baby in the morning.  This is true even in subsidized day care programs.  Infants are abused because they scream from the pain of diaper rash.   Even if a family in poverty wants to use cloth diapers, detergents and the few Laundromats that will allow dirty diapers in the machines are very expensive.

Recently, I was lucky enough to spend an afternoon with my friend’s 2 month old baby boy.  James smiled a lot and it was a marvel to see his little brain engaged in faces and playthings hanging over his head.  His tiny body and brain were doing exactly what they are meant to be doing during this critical developmental time, growing and taking in the world.   It’s hard work!  That’s why babies (and puppies for that matter) tire so quickly when they are little.  

I changed James’ diaper 4 times in the short time I was with him.  As his Mom said, “James likes a clear canvas.”  Because his bottom was clean and dry, his “attention” could be where it should be.  Right now, in this country, babies born into poverty are caught in a diaper dilemma.  Diapers are not covered by any government assistance programs, not food stamps and not WIC support.  Diapers are rarely provided through food banks*.  Diapers are expensive, about 25 cents each.  An adequate supply, costs $75 – $115 per month.  Families in poverty or crisis due to illness, domestic violence, mental health issues or just bad luck, struggle heartily to provide the basics that so many of us take for granted.  There are a number of “political” ways that one can respond to this issue.  In the end, is this a battle that babies should be fighting? 

I don’t think so.  Locally, WestSide Baby provides 500,000 diapers to local families in need.  These diapers are donated through diaper drives, we purchase them with financial donations and some are donated by diaper manufacturers.  On the most basic level, these diapers prevent infection and the spread of disease to the babies, their families and anyone else these babies connect with daily.  To be blunt, anyone who has ever had pain “down there” should cringe at the thought of baby diaper rash. 

What can you do about this?  For starters, let people know about this diaper dilemma.  Set aside a quarter each time someone says “Really?” when you say “Food Stamps don’t cover Diapers.”  Consider donating diapers or hosting a diaper drive.  WestSide Baby will distribute those diapers through more than 90 local established social services agencies, including the West Seattle and White Center Food Banks.    We are also exploring bigger ways to address this issue.  We are looking at national efforts, considering legislative advocacy, exploring purchasing options to keep our costs as low as possible and working closing with Kimberly Clark, Huggies as they prioritize the issue of diaper deprivation.  I don’t believe that any one entity can solve this problem alone.  It’s not up to government, corporations, foundations or individuals to tackle this in isolation.  It must be a group effort.  For now, I think we’ll have better luck with baby steps than James will, especially with your help.

* Most food banks can hand out only a handful of diapers in emergency situations.  Through partnership with WestSide Baby, the West Seattle and White Center Food Banks are able to do more.  More than $45,000 in diapers provided in the first half of 2011.