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If families can’t afford diapers, babies’ health is at risk. Here’s how one group helps

·10 min read

Jamilet Huerta grins as she picks up a box of 84 diapers that’s easily half the size of her small body. The 3-year-old passes the box to her mom, Yuliana Huerta, who loads it into the trunk of their car.

That box will help Huerta save almost $100 a month, she said.

Jamilet and her mom got the diapers at Community Crossroads, which hosts a weekly diaper and formula distribution for families.

Between Jamilet and her six-month-old little brother, diapers are a recurring, expensive need for their family. But now that Huerta can get diapers, as well as formula and groceries, from Community Crossroads, she has a little extra room in her budget. Huerta said she plans to use the money to pay her family’s summer electricity bills, driven higher by the need for air conditioning and all four of her children spending more time at home now that school is out.

Diapers and wipes have persistently been an intractable expense for families experiencing poverty. And for adults with incontinence, adult diapers and other incontinence products can quickly become an essential need after a medical diagnosis causes incontinence. They are an immediate, unceasing need for infants and toddlers, and for those adults who need them, and there are relatively few resources that exist to help families meet those needs, said Peyton Lehrer, the exectuvie director of Gill Children’s Services.

But last year, the Junior League of Fort Worth opened the county’s first centralized diaper bank, making thousands of diapers and wipes available to families just as the pandemic’s economic impact made the necessities even harder to afford. To date, the Junior League has distributed more than 326,000 diapers to Tarrant County children and adults, said Meredeth Belew, who co-chairs the league’s diaper bank work.

At Community Crossroads, a soup kitchen and service provider affiliated with the First Presbyterian Church, the diaper bank has been able to increase its diaper distribution from monthly to weekly thanks to the increased supply from the Junior League’s diaper bank. The bank has also provided other partner agencies with a steadier pipeline of diapers and wipes.

An expensive need with few solutions

Diaper need has been the subject of relatively little research that can determine how many families struggle to pay for the basic expense. The first peer-reviewed study to quantify diaper need wasn’t published until 2013. Of the mothers surveyed for that research, about 30% said they didn’t have enough diapers to change their children as often as they would like. Latino women were significantly more likely to report diaper need, according to the research.

The National Diaper Bank Network estimates diapers cost families $70-80 per month, per baby. Federal assistance programs like Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, and the Women, Infants, and Children program, or WIC, can’t be used to purchase diapers. Cash assistance from Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, or TANF, can be used to purchase diapers, but relatively few poor families receive TANF benefits, making it of limited use to buy diapers. (Less than 2,000 children in Tarrant County received TANF benefits in 2019.)

Diaper banks throughout the country have reported a surge in need throughout the pandemic, as families lost income and the price of consumer goods, including diapers, rose. About one in four local families surveyed by the U.S. Census Bureau said they were still having trouble paying for usual household expenses.

Hope Supply Co. in Dallas has steadily increased the number of diapers it distributes to families and saw a surge in need during the pandemic, said its CEO Barbara Johnson, but she said the nonprofit is still not able to meet the demand. The organization distributed 1.6 million diapers in 2018, which jumped to 2.2 million in 2019 and more than 3.2 million last year, according to the group’s records.

“I will say that those families most affected by the pandemic will see a long term impact to their pocketbook, unlike families in higher income levels,” Johnson said in an email. “They will continue to struggle to afford basics, especially with diaper prices going up.”

Fort Worth’s first diaper bank

Leaders with the Junior League of Fort Worth first started thinking about bringing a diaper bank to Fort Worth in 2017, after Hurricane Harvey devastated communities in Texas along the Gulf Coast. After the storm made landfall, the Junior Leagues in Baton Rouge and New Orleans were able to quickly adapt their existing diaper banks to get supplies to the communities reeling from the impact of the storm.

Watching league chapters in other cities activate so quickly got leaders in Fort Worth thinking about their organization’s role in Tarrant County.

“What are we going to do in the future when we have disasters, or now pandemics, to be able to quickly activate and provide help to the community?” said Carrie Cappel, 2018-2019 Junior League president.

After a months-long research process to study diaper access nationally and locally, and to determine whether there was a genuine need for a centralized diaper distributor in Fort Worth, the league prepared to open the bank in 2020. The COVID-19 pandemic delayed the start, but ultimately spurred the group to do their first emergency diaper distribution in May 2020, when the league sent 113,000 diapers to 14 different agencies.

The organization doesn’t directly hand out diapers and wipes to families. Instead, service agencies, nonprofits, and other groups can apply to partner with the Junior League. Those partners can order diapers and wipes from the Junior League and distribute them to their communities as needed. As a member of the National Diaper Bank Network, the league can buy supplies at a lower cost than the retail price for these essentials.

Today, the Junior League distributes diapers to 31 different agencies through a partnership with the Tarrant Area Food Bank, which provides warehouse space for the thousands of diapers and wipes that the Junior Leagues distributes each month. In addition to more than 326,000 diapers distributed, the league has also given out 298,000 wipes.

A question of health

For most families experiencing poverty, cloth diapers aren’t a viable alternative.

Although they are reusable and don’t require as frequent replacement, many laundromats don’t allow laundering of dirty cloth diapers. And even if cloth diapers were easy to clean, most day care providers require that children have a supply of disposable diapers.

A child’s diaper should be changed every time it gets soiled, said Dr. Vida Amin, the medical director for Cook Children’s network of neighborhood clinics. For infants, that can be about 12 times per day, and for toddlers, that’s typically about eight times per day.

If a child wears a dirty diaper or a reused diaper for too long, they can develop a diaper rash, which in turn can cause the skin to break down and lead to soft tissue infections, blistering and abscesses. Too much time in a dirty diaper can also make children more susceptible to urinary tract infections. A full or leaking diaper can also cause the spread of stool and contaminants beyond the child’s diaper, which means that other people who come into contact could get sick, Amin said.

“Leaving dirty diapers on babies and toddlers can cause a lot of health problems,” Amin said. “And even for parents it can cause stress and embarrassment, and so all those things really have to be considered.”

Incontinence supplies for adults

Although the majority of diapers the Junior League supplies are for children and toddlers, other Tarrant County residents have need as well.

REACH of Fort Worth, which provides services for people with disabilities, has been able to quadruple the number of adult diapers and incontinence supplies it gives out since it partnered with the Junior League, said assistant director Robin Lassiter.

Access to incontinence supplies can be hugely transformation for the people who need them, Lassiter said. Some people REACH works with would need to use a catheter if they didn’t have access to the supplies, meaning that incontinence supplies can actually prevent people from being home bound and give them the ability to be out in the community.

“It’s a very personal issue,” Lassiter said. “For some individuals, these incontinence supplies allow for self care and less dependence on our systems and services of home health.”

‘We just have more’

In its second full year of operation, the Junior League hopes to work with more partner agencies in Tarrant County and increase the reach of its diaper program.

The resource is one that’s had a tangible impact on 15-month-old Zaydrian Morales and his family.

Zaydrian has energy “24/7,” said his mom Giselle Morales. Zaydrian goes through about eight or nine diapers a day, Morales said. For the past several months, Morales, 19, has been supplementing the diapers she buys for her son with free diapers from Community Crossroads and another diaper provider after she heard about the resources through a friend.

The difference has meant she and Zaydrian’s father have more money to spend on other essentials for their child, she said. Before she started coming to the diaper banks, Morales said “we would just have less money for other stuff” he needed. WIC benefits alone were not enough to pay for all the formula he needed, and he was growing so fast that they were constantly having to buy him new clothes.

Now, she said, “we just have more, we can buy him a little more.”

How to help

If you want to help the Junior League of Fort Worth provide diapers to Tarrant County families, you can:

  • Drop off unused children’s and adult’s diapers, wipes, and bed pads at 255 Bailey Ave., Monday-Friday from 9 a.m. until 3 p.m. The league can accept open packages.

  • You can donate to the Junior League’s diaper fund online (bit.ly/jlfwdiapers), or buy items from the league’s Amazon wish list (https://a.co/fZ2lulU.)

How to get diapers

If you need diapers, the following agencies provide diapers, adult diapers, and wipes in Tarrant County:

  • Community Crossroads, 1516 Hemphill St.: Formula and diapers for infants and toddlers are distributed every Monday between 9 and 11 a.m. You can come twice per month, and families are also welcome to shop for free groceries in the Community Crossroads’ pantry when they come for a diaper distribution. Diapers are free for anyone with a child under three years old. Parents or guardians should bring their ID, their child’s birth certificate, and their WIC cards.

  • Broadway Baptist Church, 305 Broadway Ave.: Newborn to adult diapers available on the first Wednesday of each month between 10:15 and 11:45 a.m. A valid ID is required. You can also pick up diapers from 9 a.m. to 11:45 a.m. on Mondays, Tuesdays and Fridays (go to the community center entrance.)

  • Other agencies and organizations in Tarrant County distribute diapers but may not be accepting additional clients at this time. If you are an agency or organization that provides diapers, wipes, or formula and can accommodate additional demand, please email cmccarthy@star-telegram.com or call or text 817-203-4391 and we will update this list.

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