By Todd Cohen
DURHAM, N.C. — Packed into a 10,000-square-foot warehouse in Durham are two million disposable diapers that individuals and diaper companies have donated to the Diaper Bank of North Carolina, a Durham nonprofit that has distributed over one million diapers to agencies serving low-income families since it began operating in June 2013.
A second warehouse houses another million diapers for the nonprofit, which distributes over 100,000 diapers a month to 22 agencies in Durham, Orange and Alamance counties.
It also operates a branch on the campus of Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem that distributes 45,000 diapers a month to 18 agencies in eight counties in the Triad, and a branch in Wilmington that distributes 5,000 diapers a month in four counties.
It recently agreed to take over from The Diaper Train, a program of Saint Saviour’s Center in Raleigh, the distribution of 60,000 diapers a month to 12 agencies in Wake County.
In 2017, the Diaper Bank expects to distribute a total of over 2 million diapers to its partner agencies.
And once it builds its current branches into sustainable operations, it will consider adding a branch to address demand in western North Carolina.
“We work through nonprofits that work with families living in poverty,” says Michelle Old, founder and executive director of the Diaper Bank. “It is our goal in every county we serve to have an open source of diapers for residents of that county.”
The critical need for diapers among low-income people is under-appreciated, says Old, a long-time advocate working to protect women from violence, who launched the Diaper Bank in January 2013.
With a child who as an infant had severe diaper rashes, requiring frequent visits to the hospital and 15 to 20 diaper changes a day, she says, she made it her mission to make sure families that could not afford them had access to free diapers.
An estimated one in three families in the U.S. experience the need for diapers. And working families account for 73 percent of families that receive diapers the Diaper Bank distributes to its partner agencies, with each adult holding one to two jobs, according to a 2015 a study for the Diaper Bank by the University of North Carolina at Greensboro.
“We are dealing mostly with working families and they cannot afford basic needs for their children,” Old says. “And every time, they’ll choose feeding their children over diapers, and make those diapers last longer.”
Operating with an annual budget of $150,000, plus $450,000 worth of in-kind support, the Diaper Bank employs one person working full-time and three working part-time, including Old.
It counts on 250 volunteers a month at its Durham branch, 20 a month at its Triad branch, and 30 to 40 a month at its Wilmington branch.
The Diaper Bank depends on donations from individuals to support its operations, and raises $22,000 at each of two children’s consignment sales it holds April and October.
It gets 30 percent of its diapers from community donations and drives, and the rest from diaper companies. Those include Huggies through the National Diaper Bank Network, and a partnership with Domtar Personal Care, a diaper-maker in Greenville with corporate offices in Research Triangle Park that also provides volunteers.
The Diaper Bank rewraps all the donated diapers and counts on community donations for sizes not included in the bulk donations from diaper companies.
It also distributes feminine-hygiene products, as well as diapers for seniors with incontinence who are living in poverty.
And in a pilot project supported by the Community Care Fund at Duke University, it provides potty-training classes in English and Spanish, as well as transportation to the classes, child care during the classes, and a “potty,” pull-ups and a book to read to children while sitting on the potty.
In partnership with UNC-Greensboro, the Diaper Bank conducts ongoing research and works through its partner agencies to connect diaper recipients with programs and services that can address other needs the families may have.
“We’re not just giving them diapers,” Old says. “We’re connecting them with programs that can help them in multiple ways to become self-sustaining.”