Until recently, Vermont was one of only a few states without a diaper bank. Through the work of the Junior League of Champlain Valley (JLCV), that gap has been filled.
In partnership with the Chittenden Emergency Food Shelf and other area food shelf programs, JLCV established the state’s first diaper bank and began distributing diapers in the community from its South Burlington headquarters in fall 2018. In early 2018, JLCV ran its first diaper drive and distributed over 18,000 diapers to the Chittenden Emergency Food Shelf. It plans to distribute about 100,000 diapers annually.
As of last week, Vermont officially joined the National Diaper Bank Network. There are over 300 National Diaper Bank Network member diaper banks across the United States, which have collectively distributed more than 52 million diapers annually.
With one in three families struggling with diaper need, issues of accessibility and affordability ripple from the local, state, and national levels. JLCV — which works to improve the quality of life for children, women, and families at risk in the community by providing resources and awareness — completed its strategic plan in fall 2017 and chose to focus on affordable living. Diaper need surfaced as one of the many moving parts under this category.
“You hear about food shelves lacking food, but I didn’t have that same understanding of diapers, and obviously they’re a completely necessary item for many families — very expensive, not covered by food stamps,” said JLCV Diaper Bank Chair Amanda Herzberger.
“We talked to Chittenden Emergency Food Shelf, and they said eight to 10 people per day were asking for diapers, and basically they had no supply of diapers,” she added. “Vermont Food Bank gets some occasionally but not with any sort of regularity, so it’s unmet need.”
By the Numbers
Much like the figure of people requesting this item, eight to 10 diapers are needed each day per child. However, with nearly 30 percent of low-income U.S. families with children in diapers unable to afford an adequate supply of them, some infants and toddlers are forced to wear one to two diapers all day. The average cost of diapering a child is $100 per month, according to the National Diaper Bank Network.
This may lead to a myriad of adverse health effects such as severe diaper rashes, discomfort, and urinary tract infections. It also has a mental impact on children and parents such as stress, anxiety, and depression.
In Vermont, 42 percent of births are covered by Medicaid, but diapers are not specifically covered by state and national safety net programs. Therefore, they are not eligible under SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program), formally known as food stamps; 9 percent of SNAP recipients in Vermont are under the age of five.
Of Vermonters using the Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), a food and nutrition service program that provides federal grant assistance for women and children under the age of five, 19.4 percent of recipients are infants.
The only federal assistance programs that can be used for diapers is Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, but that program covers other expenses, including heat, rent, clothing, transportation, and other basic needs, which leaves little left – if any – for diapers.
With low-income families in America spending double as much as families with access to bulk-buying options for diapers, this leads to another obstruction: ability to secure childcare and consequently the ability for parents to work, which is especially problematic for single parent households.
Most childcare facilities require parents to provide diapers for their child. Therefore, with no diapers, there is no childcare. With no childcare, this affects parents’ ability to work or attend school. There are 77 percent of mothers in the workforce with infants in Vermont, according to the National Diaper Bank Network, as of November 2017.
JLCV, which has approximately 60 active members, decided to do a test run with a diaper drive in early 2018. JLCV sought out expert advice from Jason Fitzgerald, who has run the annual Dee PT Great Diaper Drive for over a decade in support of COTS, the Committee on Temporary Shelter. Last year, the Dee PT Great Diaper Drive finished on Dec. 21, 2018 with 85,000 diapers, far exceeding its initial goal of 40,000. The JLCV came to the opening of the drive.
“We’re really inspired by the work he’s done and said, ‘Ok, if you’re covering COTS, then maybe we would work with the Chittenden Emergency Food Shelf,’” Herzberger said.
Thus 2018 kicked off with an ongoing diaper drive. In March, Seventh Generation contacted JLCV about offloading over 46,000 diapers. The organization sought out a commercial space to accommodate the load, and in June 2018, JLCV signed the lease for 3060 Williston Road, Suite 4 in South Burlington.
JLCV has also been communicating with the Target department store chain regarding a partnership and has worked with other area businesses, such as Evolution Yoga, Mini Spa, and EJ’s Kids Klub, among others, in setting up their own diaper drives. JLCV aims to establish three to four drives a month with community businesses to continue answering the demand for diapers. Work offices and schools are also encouraged to partake in the cause.
Additionally, JLCV set up donation bins outside of Healthy Living as well as Kismet in Place in Williston, and there is a Junior League Diaper Bank Amazon wish list.
Donations can be of any brand, size, or type, but they must be disposable. Cloth diapers are not accepted since many of those in need of these diapers use public laundry facilities, which prohibits washing cloth diapers.
Since donations are not uniform in packaging and come in various sizes, JLCV schedules repackaging events where volunteers work to categorize the diapers by size and repackage accordingly.
The Other Paper joined a small group of volunteers on Jan. 12 at its headquarters to witness the repackaging effort.
“This Monday (Jan. 14) is our second distribution, so every other month we distribute to five local food shelves: Chittenden Emergency Food Shelf, Williston, Hinesburg, Milton, and Richmond, and we distribute a little over 16,000 diapers each other month to get up to hopefully up to 100,000 by the end of the year,” Herzberger said.
“Today, we will be pulling the size requests,” she continued. “The tables were set with labels and plastic wrap. “We accommodate size requests when we are able to — we have a checklist.”
While all diaper donations are welcome, there is a demand for certain sizes.
“They typically ask for size two and three because families can get the most out of those diapers — they have the longest weight bracket,” explained JLCV President Jill Everett. “A size two is like 10-20 pounds and size three is 15-25. They find that they use those the most because they can get the most out of them, where as a ‘newborn’ and ‘size one’ a child might use them rather quickly.”
What’s next on the agenda?
“We are just about to start reaching out to legislators and local representatives about our diaper bank,” Everett said. “We have a ribbon-cutting on Mar. 7.”
Diapers are considered a luxury item, not a necessity, and are charged with a sales tax, Herzberger added. “We want to network with legislators and see if we can move the needle along with that.”
For more information about JLCV complete work with community partners or to make a diaper donation online, visit jlcv.org.