Each day, families around the country struggle to afford diapers. Michela Hugo and the CNY Diaper Bank have set out to change that. Founded in May 2016, the organization collects and distributes diapers to local families, and in July, it passed the one million mark for 2020. Family Times recently talked to Hugo, the CNY Diaper Bank’s founder and president, about the organization’s roots and how a shortage of clean diapers can impact families.
This interview was edited for length and clarity.
- Can you start by telling me a little about how the CNY Diaper Bank got started?
I learned about diapers not being covered by government assistance, and it was just something that really bothered me as a mom. I researched to see if there were any local agencies that were providing diapers to families, and I surveyed all of them. The ones that I heard back from all said that they never had diapers to give to families, but that families came to them all the time. They were constantly turning families away. I just knew that I couldn’t turn away from the issue and I decided to start a diaper bank. I gathered a couple friends that were interested in helping, and I followed the resources of the National Diaper Bank network and looked at what other diaper banks throughout the country were doing. We started with a big diaper drive and we collected like 23,000 diapers. We also partnered with six local agencies our first month. From then on, it’s been growing every single month. We distributed just over a million diapers in 2019 and we work with 40 partners now. We are still volunteer, but we continue to grow despite that.
- What is your goal?
Our mission is to make sure that all families in Central New York have enough diapers for their infants and toddlers. We also want to raise awareness that diaper need is an issue and it’s a consequence of poverty that a lot of people don’t often consider. Diapers are a basic need and they are not covered by any form of government assistance. Families that are living paycheck to paycheck, or without a paycheck, there is no safety net in place for them. Babies have to have their needs met; those early years are critical. Diapers keep babies clean and dry and healthy. They’re essential. I think people take for granted that everybody has a basic like diapers. It became even more apparent during the early days of the shutdown when store shelves were cleared out because people were panic buying. They stocked up on diapers because they couldn’t imagine being without diapers if they couldn’t leave the house. There are people who live the everyday crisis of not knowing if they’ll be able to get their next pack of diapers or they’ve already run out of diapers and they’re using old diapers or they’re going without diapers and can’t leave the house. I think this pandemic has shined a light on this crisis.
- What is the CNY Diaper Bank doing to address this need?
We partner with 40 local agencies that all work with families in various ways, and we provide diapers to those agencies. They can then provide diapers to the families that are being served through their various programs. We’re trying to use diapers as an incentive to get families services that can help them in a variety of other ways, whether that be providing food and nutrition or providing parenting classes. We typically don’t provide direct service. Last year we also started a cloth diaper program. We have volunteers who work with families one-on-one to show them how to use cloth diapers and give them everything they need. We have a stock of cloth diapers and reusable wipes. We have everything you need. We want to make sure parents understand how diapers are used and how to be successful with that. That’s another way that we try to address it.
- What is the effect on families when they can’t get clean diapers?
We always ask families after they receive diapers how the clean diapers impact them and one of the top responses is that it reduces their stress. Parents are under a tremendous amount of stress when they’re struggling to afford food and diapers and pay their bills and take care of their babies. We know that parents are better parents when they’re less stressed. Providing diapers takes a weight off those parents. Diaper need is a big source of anxiety, and it’s also a major cause of depression in moms. And we know the impact that stress and anxiety on families can have on the development of children, especially in those early years. We look at is as a concrete way to help families lower that stress level. A lot of times when families are impacted by diaper need, they’re choosing between buying food or buying diapers. And we don’t believe that’s a choice any family should have to make. When they receive a supplement of diapers, it helps them free up funds to pay for that food or pay a bill because diapers cost a lot. Families that are low income are also spending more on diapers than families that are able to afford them because families that are struggling are usually buying smaller packs of diaper, so the cost per diaper is that much higher. They’re not able to afford Subscribe & Save on Amazon. They’re not able to go to BJ’s and buy a big box. That cost adds up and then they run out faster. So, they’re paying more per diaper in the long run and it’s just not sustainable.
- How can Family Times readers get involved in your organization?
The best way to help is to make a donation on our website (cnydiaperbank.org). We are always purchasing diapers to keep up with the demand, so financial contributions, especially now during this pandemic, are especially helpful because the need that we’re seeing has skyrocketed. We were distributing 100,000 diapers a month before the start of the pandemic, and now we’re distributing 185,000 diapers a month. It’s a huge strain on what we’re able to do. We are all volunteers, so every dollar that’s donated goes toward buying diapers. Another way that families can help is if they have leftover diapers or diapers they no longer need or if they have cloth diapers that they’re finished with and they want to pass them on, we accept all of those things. We also accept wipes and diaper cream and soaps. We have a collection bin outside our office in Liverpool, so we encourage people to drop off things.
For more information about the CNY Diaper Bank, visit cnydiaperbank.org.
Virtual 5K Diaper Run
Held in honor of National Diaper Need Awareness Week (9/21-9/27), participants can help local families in need. Click here for more information.