Learn more about a Durham NC-based organization working hard to provide a healthy start for local families in need.
A young mother stands in the grocery isle contemplating her options. She has $20 left until next week, which means she can afford diapers or formula, but not both. Sadly, families in our own community and across the world grapple with impossible decisions like this every day. No matter what decision she makes, the stress and guilt will weigh on her, which could negatively affect her health and quality of life.
You may have the good fortune to not know what this experience is like. If so, just think back to the beginning of COVID shutdowns. The toilet paper shortage left us all counting squares and wondering if we’d have enough to last. It was a brief glimpse into everyday life for people in need of basic hygiene supplies, including diapers, period products and adult incontinence supplies.
The Diaper Bank of North Carolina (DBNC), located in Durham, NC, is on a mission to improve access to personal hygiene products and other basic necessities to remove barriers to education, employment or personal fulfillment. At Baebies, this mission hits close to home. Since our inception, Baebies has partnered with the DBNC to advance their mission and strengthen our own commitment to delivering a healthy start for everyone, regardless of a person’s background, socio-economic status or geography.
Recently, we sat down with Michelle Old, founder and executive director of the DBNC, for a closer look at how access to basic personal hygiene effects our local community and to understand the impact COVID-19 has had on the DBNC and the families it serves.
Continue reading to explore key takeaways from our conversation with Michelle and learn what you can do to make a positive impact through supporting the DBNC and organizations like it.
Takeaway #1 – The DBNC is the first organization of its kind to publish research on the work they are doing and the impact it has on families and the community partners they distribute through
For each program they provide, the DBNC’s Director of Research collects and publishes research aimed at understanding the benefits of providing access to basic personal hygiene products and helping to inform how best to serve program participants.
For example, research conducted prior to the COVID-19 pandemic found that 78% of families who received diapers from the DBNC were working between one to three jobs and still couldn’t afford basic needs.
“One-hundred percent of the people struggling to put food on the table also struggle to buy diapers and other hygiene products,” said Michelle. “Diapers, period products and incontinence supplies, even toilet paper and cleaning products, are not covered by food stamps because the program is regulated under an agricultural bill.”
Takeaway #2 – Since the beginning of the pandemic, DBNC staff saw a staggering 400% increase in diaper requests
As food and housing insecurity for families has risen during the COVID-19 pandemic, diaper bank staff have also experienced a sharp increase in requests: 400% for diapers; 800% for period products; and a 2,000% increase for adult incontinence products.
“Often, there is a misconception of poverty,” Michelle pointed out. “Some people envision unmotivated, uncaring, or lazy individuals. In reality, most work incredibly hard to provide for their children, carry more than one job, yet still have to choose between necessities.”
Takeaway #3 – The increasing need, combined with decreasing donations has made providing diapers and other supplies an uphill battle
Fewer donations, volunteers, and diaper drives, mixed with more people out of work, more requests, and higher prices are just some of the key challenges the DBNC has faced since early 2020. Prior to that, 400 to 600 volunteers per week helped pack diapers. Most diapers and other products were collected in corporate and organizational drives.
“In a typical year, we would receive 400,000 to 500,000 diapers from drives, then everything just stopped,” said Michelle.
To fill the gap, the DBNC is now purchasing more diapers, but Michelle worries that this model is not sustainable long term.
“During the shutdowns, we had a staff of four handling 400,000 diapers per month. All their homes became storage and wrapping locations,” said Michelle. “I’ve never been prouder to work with this group of people. We did not miss one order. Some people turned their homes into diaper banks. I’m humbled and proud.”
Getting involved to give families in your community a healthy start
Access to essential dignity products removes barriers to simple, everyday activities. Think about the positive impact of basic hygiene and what it allows you to do: pursue an education, work, enjoy recreation or time with friends. Here are three ways organizations and community members can get involved to support the DBNC and organizations like it in providing access to hygiene products:
- Shine a light on the issue – At the state level, through partnerships with coalitions like NC STOMP, the DBNC advocates for policy reform so that diapers and period products are included in the definition of and provision for the basic human needs of families. At the local level, you can contribute to this effort simply by discussing the issue. Enhancing community understanding is important to highlight how access to basic personal hygiene impacts physical and mental health, education, employability and quality of life. Raising awareness that these needs are not being met for families living with poverty is also key to driving change.
- Become a volunteer – The DBNC could benefit from the support of at least 20 volunteers per week to assist with wrapping diapers and more. For adult volunteer groups, consider a Wine and Wrap party where friends can gather, wrap diapers and enjoy time together.
- Organize a diaper drive – As businesses and schools begin to participate in-person activities such as community outreach again, the DBNC is beginning to welcome these groups back. Virtual diaper drives are also an option.
Together, we can provide the support that families in our community need to access essential hygiene products. To learn more about the Diaper Bank of North Carolina and explore ways to get involved, visit ncdiaperbank.org.