Financially struggling families must make tough choices. Inflation has made that worse as they balance taking care of their babies and other children and meeting all their living expenses.
Their burden became heavier when diaper prices rose 14% last year and an additional 11% already this year, according to Cathy Battle, founder and executive director of the Western Pennsylvania Diaper Bank. So the 11-year-old organization and Global Links, a local humanitarian aid organization, are joining forces again to help these families.
The two groups will hold a drive-up diaper distribution Saturday from 10 a.m. to noon at McKeesport Area High School, funded by a Jefferson Regional Foundation grant Global Links received last fall. Families and caregivers of young children can line up by car to receive a one-month supply of children’s diapers per household. Parents and caregivers will have the option of choosing up to two different sizes of diapers. Sizes 1-6 will be available.
That supply will save families between $100 and $120, Battle said, depending on the size of the diapers. The Diaper Bank, working with 60 partner agencies, gives out close to 200,000 diapers per month in addition to formula, period products and adult incontinence supplies.
The National Diaper Bank estimates that an infant uses eight to 12 diapers per day, and a toddler uses six to eight diapers per day, according to a news release from the two groups. The National Diaper Bank Network reports that 1 in 3 American families struggle to afford diapers for their children. At the rate of six diapers per day, diaper-wearing children in poverty in the United States require more than 5.8 billion diapers annually. This suggests that 77,000 diapers per day are required to meet the diaper need in Allegheny County.
The Diaper Bank has worked with Global Links since 2020, encouraged by the Jefferson Foundation to collaborate, and the drive-up distributions were a necessity during the pandemic to serve families safely. It also works with Carnegie Library’s Best Books for Babies program, and in April they held a diaper donation in the Hill District. Prior to that it also partnered with Beverly’s Birthdays.
This is the first time either organization has held an event in McKeesport. Residents outside that city are welcome to come, too, Battle said.
“It’s a lot of work. But we know there is a need. Our partner agencies see the need, and this is just a way of getting it out large. It’s a way for the community to get out there and get them if they need them,” Battle said. Several of the Diaper Bank’s partner agencies are located in the Mon Valley, and residents can visit them once a month to pick up diapers. The Diaper Bank is based in Point Breeze.
Global Links and the Diaper Bank have worked hard to make the event run as smoothly and serve as many families as possible. “We bring enough diapers to serve the 400 families, 400 cars who will drive through the distribution in two hours,” Battle said. “We know about that many cars will come through. We know 80,000 to 100,000 diapers will be given out in those two hours.”
Angela Garcia, Global Links executive director, and Battle said during the pandemic in addition to the increased financial difficulties families faced, supply chain shortages caused a diaper shortage. Battle didn’t have enough staff or volunteers to staff a drive-thru distribution, but Global Links had the people and logistical expertise to work that out. “That first year in 2020, we had two of them — One was 80,000 [diapers distributed] and another was 100,000,” Battle said. “They came out for them, so we knew that would work. Logistically, they can handle it. We have access to purchasing wholesale, so that works out.”
Garcia said the idea was to mimic what the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank was doing, and in 2020 and 2021 the two groups held six distributions. “They were all successful,” she said. “The minimum number of cars was 350, the maximum 700 cars. We always would see [people from] over 100 ZIP codes. People are coming from far and wide.”
Global Links has primarily worked in the Pittsburgh area, not in the Mon Valley. Finding a large enough site was not easy; the food bank linked the two agencies to the McKeesport Area School District.
This drive will cost about $25,000-$28,000, Garcia estimated, and it is a line item in the larger Mon Valley-based Jefferson Regional Foundation grant Global Links received. It takes the Global Links’ staff, the Diaper Bank staff and volunteers — about 30 people in all — to run an event like this. Planning started about eight weeks ago, she said.
She’s grateful for the grant because last year she could not secure a funder, any corporate sponsor, for a diaper drive. In the past banks, insurance companies, health care systems and others had worked with Global Links, but a challenging year economically hurt. “We are actively looking for sponsors,” she said, “because we can do these. One year we did four. The need is there. Families with young children, it’s more challenging than ever, and the costs are going up.”
Global Links’ mission of supporting public health for all communities has always included providing personal hygiene items in its daily work, Garcia said, and that has ranged from soap and toothpaste to diapers to personal mobility equipment. Projects like this fall under its Domestic Medical Aid program.
She said she had a reality check when she bought a one-month case of diapers for a friend with a new baby, and it cost $80, a price that stunned her. And she and Battle both emphasize the issues that can arise with not having an adequate supply of diapers and wipes, all the way up to urinary tract infections. “Without diapers for your baby, you have so many other things that can happen — rashes, skin breakdowns, lots of crying that can lead to domestic abuse. It’s just a lot [for people] at a lower-income level,” Garcia said.
Battle said this has been a silent crisis. “No one knew that moms and dads were suffering because they couldn’t diaper their baby. All that you knew, if you had a baby, you would diaper it. It’s what they thought,” she said. “Now they don’t have a problem coming out to get these diapers. They welcome the help. But there was no help before.”
The work is constant for Battle and her staff. “We are still the only diaper bank in Western Pennsylvania,” she said. “We’re covering Allegheny, Westmoreland, Fayette, some of Washington [counties]. We get calls from Beaver, Butler, all the surrounding counties: ‘When are you coming here? Or how can we get help?’ We know the needs is there — We’re not large enough to reach those areas yet, but they are definitely in our vision for the next few years.”
Both Battle and Garcia said a side benefit of the drives and their partnership is raising awareness of the diaper cost and access issue. With inflation, the need is increasing in working-class and middle-class families, too, not just the poverty-level and low-income families. “They are all struggling with basic needs,” Battle said.
The Diaper Bank is part of two national organizations, the National Diaper Bank Network and Baby to Baby, both of which help it get diapers from time to time. It also buys diapers at wholesale prices, gets donations from individual’s and organizations’ diaper drives, and seeks funding from foundations. “We’re always looking for a deal for diapers, we’re always looking for donations, because the need continues to rise,” she said.
The diaper banks help to lobby federal and state governments, asking that diapers be part of government assistance. There has been some success. The first federal grant through the Department of Health and Human Services came out last year — the Diaper Distribution Demonstration and Research Pilot Grant. Last year it donated $10 million in diapers, and this year $20 million is going toward the distribution of diapers across the United States. “That’s not enough. But that’s a start,” Battle said, “because there was none for it before.”
In Pennsylvania, Rep. Carol Hill-Evans, D-York, and others have introduced House Bill 229, establishing the Community Diaper and Adult Incontinence Products Grant, Battle said.
Garcia said her organization doesn’t have the network or staff to lobby officials, but the two groups share information. “It’s an honor to work alongside them because it’s raising awareness of something that is a public health issue for us. Our mission is to help communities in need through a public health model. It’s primary care. And it’s something our entire team can be a part of.”
The free diaper distribution for families in need will be held Saturday, June 17, rain or shine, at McKeesport Area High School, 1960 Eden Park Blvd., McKeesport 15132. No pre-registration is needed.