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This toddler wants just one present for her first birthday: more diapers.
Bundled Blessings, the diaper pantry that is a local mission of First United Methodist Church, 516 Church St., is turning 1. After months of gestation, the pantry was born on Sept. 8, 2013, when a procession of children marched to the front of the church carrying 4,000 bundled, disposable diapers collected by the congregation.
The committee of five who founded the pantry is making plans to celebrate the birthday during the Sept. 7 church service. The event will commemorate a year in which the new organization distributed 32,444 diapers to at-risk families, says project co-chair Krys Juleen.
At the request of Ms. Juleen and the committee,
Governor Quinn has issued a proclamation recognizing Sept. 8-12 as Infant Needs Awareness Week in Illinois with a focus on the importance of diapers.
In a series of “whereases” the document underlines the crucial role diapers play in family life and the hardships that occur when they are lacking. The proclamation states that the average baby requires 50 diaper changes per week; that diapers cannot be bought with food stamps; that one in three mothers experiences diaper need at
some time; that 48% of families delay changing a diaper to extend their supply; that diapers are generally an eligibility requirement for participation in quality
childcare and early childhood education programs;
and therefore, that addressing diaper need can lead to
improved health and economic opportunity for low-income families.
“Diapers are a basic need for children, as central to their health and well-being as food and shelter,” says Jan Winslow, committee co-chair and a social worker at the Perinatal Family Support Center at Evanston Hospital.
Yet many parents cannot afford $150 per month for disposable diapers or the steep initial cost and laundry fees for cloth diapers, which, by Illinois law, cannot be washed in laundromats.
Poor families, then, face poor choices. Leaving babies in dirty diapers or reusing soiled ones can create crabby, uncomfortable children prone to rashes or staph infections and guilty, stressed parents, Ms. Winslow says.
Bundled Blessings, the only pantry between Chicago and Waukegan, does not dispense diapers directly. Instead, the pantry supplies diapers to six Evanston organizations that then distribute them to clients in need: Infant Welfare Society of Evanston (the Teen Baby Nursery); the Child Care Network (home visiting program); the Family Advocacy Center at Family Focus; Connections for the Homeless; REACH Y.O.U. (the Y.O.U. street program that reaches out to homeless teen parents); and the Erie Family Health Center.
The public contributes many of the diapers, either packaged or loose and repackaged by volunteers. Half a dozen red collection barrels with the Bundled Blessings logo are in place around town, at willing businesses like Spex and Curt’s Café, at the School for Little Children and, farther away, at a Morton Grove church.
People have found innovative ways to collect diapers. Hosts have requested that guests bring diapers to a baby shower or birthday party. A visitor to First Methodist from Japan was so impressed with Bundled Blessings that he sends diapers from Amazon. Dewey Girls Run gathered 3,000–5,000 diapers from their school, and both Misericordia and Garrett-Evangelical Seminary have hosted diaper drives.
For months the diaper pantry had no designated storage for the diapers they collected or those they bought to fill in gaps. Then, for his Eagle Scout project, Paul Richter created a pantry for the pantry. Using a donation from a church member to buy materials, he built sturdy shelving in a room previously used for rummage.
One committee member, Diane Pieterse – “our data and logistics person; we couldn’t survive without her,” Ms. Juleen says – tracks inventory and orders on a spreadsheet. Volunteers help sort and bundle diapers. Once a month, Ms. Pieterse and Sue Hagedorn, also from the committee, fill orders submitted by the six participating organizations.
The goal of Bundled Blessings has never been to supply the total number of diapers a family needs. Rather, Ms. Winslow and Ms. Juleen say, they aim to fill a shortfall the National Diaper Bank Network estimates at 50 diapers per family per month.
For their first year, Ms. Winslow says, Bundled Blessings set a goal of providing “50 diapers per month for 100 bottoms.” Next year, she says, they hope to cover double that number, or 200 bottoms. In addition to “sustaining deliveries,” they plan to “reach into the community” in 2015, Ms. Winslow says.
The project co-chairs say grants and funds from sources like offsite fundraisers and community partnerships will be necessary for their anticipated expansion. But Bundled Blessings continues to need donated diapers, especially, Ms. Winslow says, the larger sizes of Pull-Ups – 3T-4T and 4T-5T – as well as monetary donations, which can be made online at www.faithatfirst.com.