Y ou’ve heard of food banks to help those in need. How about The Diaper Bank?
Originally founded in New Haven by Joanne Goldblum and now operating mostly out of a modest, no-frills warehouse in North Haven, the ten-year-old nonprofit is spreading “change from the bottom up,” its tagline asserts, helping parents access a staple they would otherwise go without. Its diapers are doled out to a network of “agencies”—non-profit partners—throughout the city and region, which then distribute directly to families.
Partner agencies in the Elm City include All Our Kin, the New Haven Health Department, New Reach (formerly New Haven Home Recovery) and Integrated Refugee & Immigrant Services (IRIS), among many others. The Diaper Bank also supplies partners in Bridgeport, Middletown, Norwalk and Hartford.
“This is a basic need,” says executive director Janet Stolfi Alfano (pictured above). “It still amazes me how many people don’t know about us and about the need.” Studies have shown that a lack of diapers is the biggest source of stress for low-income mothers, she says. An adequate supply of disposable diapers can cost more than $100 a month, and public assistance programs like SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) and WIC (Women, Infants and Children) can’t be used to procure diapers.
Not having them can launch a vicious cycle. The most immediate concern, of course, is the health of the babies— sitting in a dirty diaper for a long period of time puts babies at risk for painful skin irritations, rashes and infections that can bring potentially dangerous side effects. Studies have also shown that parents who can’t keep children in clean diapers suffer from higher rates of depression, which can affect the parents’ ability to bond with their babies.
But there are serious economic impacts for low-income families as well. Parents and caretakers who can’t afford diapers have limited or no childcare options, since daycares won’t accept babies without them. Those without access to childcare often can’t work or go to school, which can easily push an already-strapped family to the brink.
Some may think cloth diapers are the answer for families who can’t afford disposable ones, but those bring their own unique challenges. Many low-income families have limited access to laundry facilities for cleaning them, and many childcare centers won’t accept cloth-diapered babies.
The need in our region, especially since the economic collapse of late 2008, is evident. Founded in 2004, The Diaper Bank recently distributed its 17 millionth diaper; a whopping 15 million of them have been distributed since the start of 2009. “We get calls all the time,” Stolfi Alfano says.
It’s a big problem being tackled with a limited budget. This year the organization is expecting revenue of slightly more than $381,000 and expenses of about $226,000, according to its profile on GiveGreater.org, the online database of charities powered by The Community Foundation for Greater New Haven. Some of those funds will come from a $75/ticket fundraiser, “Rock Your Baby 2014: Our 10th Anniversary Celebration,” on Oct. 30 at Amarante’s Sea Cliff.
The Diaper Bank warehouse, where a three-person staff oversees all packaging and distribution, Stolfi Alfano says, currently has about half a million diapers—mostly Huggies, thanks to a partnership with the brand—awaiting distribution. In addition to donations from corporations and individuals, it will even accept partial packs of diapers; a staff member or volunteer inspects and repacks them before they’re distributed.
The Diaper Bank has proven so effective it has been replicated elsewhere and was the inspiration for The National Diaper Bank Network, a separate entity headquartered in New Haven. “We were the model for other diaper banks,” Stolfi Alfano says proudly, noting the demand for such facilities is widespread. “We know the need is out there.”
The Diaper Bank
370 State St, North Haven (map)
Written and photographed by Cara Rosner.