Many people have heard about those with tight budgets having to choose between food and medicine, but not everyone thinks about diapers as a critical household need that can break a budget.
“For some people, they did have a budget, they weren’t planning on their kid getting sick, then they go through a package of diapers in two days,” said Susie Klein, the AmericCorps VISTA for Family Promise of Albany County.
Family Promise of Albany County is a nonprofit dedicated to addressing homelessness and the needs of low-income families with community-based responses. In looking at its mission to support families, Klein said Family Promise realized diaper need was a real concern for Albany County.
State and federal child safety-net programs do not cover expenses such as diapers. So even those receiving assistance don’t always have resources to pick up one of the most critical products for keeping babies and toddlers safe and healthy.
As Family Promise started helping the people they served with diapers, staff saw that need steadily increase.
“When we officially opened in the pantry in the beginning of October, and every month we saw a steady increase,” Klein said. “We’d get in certain sizes and they were gone within the week.”
That’s how Family Promise came across the National Diaper Bank Network, a nonprofit with the mission of providing its partner organizations with the supplies they need and to raise awareness about diaper need in the U.S.
“There are certain grants available, and also the bulk purchasing program, which we just utilized,” Klein said.
For it’s first bulk purchase, Family Promise received 30,000 diapers to help serve Albany County families.
Just more than 20% of Albany County families were living in poverty in 2018 according to the U.S. Census Bureau. One in three families experience diaper need in the U.S., according to the diaper bank network. Babies can use up to 12 diapers a day, with toddlers going through about eight, for a product that costs $70-$80 per child per month. And many of the families Family Promise serves have more than one child using diapers Klein said.
“You don’t think about if you’re on a tight budget how diapers can be a budget buster,” Klein said. “It’s a basic need that’s essential and you don’t really realize that until you run out. We’ve had people use old shirts or newspapers for emergency diapers.”
The COVID-19 pandemic has sent the U.S. economy into a severe downturn, and Wyoming’s been no exception. State government is projecting a $1.5 billion revenue shortfall in the upcoming budget cycle, which will have a negative impact on services across the state, including in Albany County and Laramie, where local governments are preparing for unprecedented financial woes.
That’s elevated the role for nonprofits like Family Promise of Albany County to step up to meet the needs that come with an economic crisis. Diapers have certainly been part of that equation in the last several months, even for those not living in poverty.
“When COVID hit, some people were coming to us literally because they couldn’t find diapers in the store or even on Amazon,” Klein said. “It’s important for us to have this buffer resource for the community.”
The other advantage to the diaper program, Klein said, is that it can be a form of outreach. Some people come because they learn they can get diapers and learn more about the services Family Promise offers.
“People don’t come to a shelter until it’s a last option,” Klein said. “We had some families that came for diapers, but when we found out we’re also a shelter, said it’s such a relief to know. It’s a great way of telling people, ‘We’re here for you.’”