Stacey Downing remembers vividly the choices she had to make – pay the rent, pay the bills, buy food or buy diapers. She was a single mother with three children.
Sometimes, Downing would take “bills” money and buy diapers. She would pay some of the rent when it was due, and pay the rest later in the month.
“You couldn’t do both. You had to make a choice constantly. What can you give up? It is something I can never forget, what I went through, getting diapers for my child,” she said.
Standing in the warehouse at HomeFront’s Family Campus and looking at wall-to-wall boxes of diapers, Downing said her children are grown and those days are behind her.
“This room, to me, would have meant freedom to love my babies. It gives me peace of mind. When a mother has an extra pack of diapers, she doesn’t have to think, ‘Do I change her diaper tonight or in the morning,'” she said.
Downing, who is a HomeFront client and who also volunteers at the nonprofit group, was on hand for the celebratory opening of HomeFront’s Diaper Resource Center at its Ewing Township campus last week.
HomeFront, which helps the homeless and the working poor, launched a diaper drive on Mother’s Day in May to collect 100,000 diapers and baby wipes in one month’s time. The stacks of boxes of Huggies and Luvs in the warehouse is the result.
The Diaper Resource Center has been a dream for HomeFront founder Connie Mercer since the days when a group of women, herself included, visited the motels along Brunswick Pike in Lawrence Township to feed the hungry, homeless families.
“I have had this dream for 25 years. The moms would ask if we had diapers for them. We could not meet that need and it broke my heart,” said Mercer, who is HomeFront’s chief executive officer.
While there are food banks and government programs that help families in need of food, such a resource does not exist for diapers. Families that receive Supplemental Nutrition Assistant Program (SNAP) money cannot spend it on diapers.
But now that the Diaper Resource Center has become a reality, HomeFront will be able to distribute diapers to families in need, Mercer said.
Families that need diapers can go to HomeFront’s headquarters at 1880 Princeton Avenue, Lawrence Township, to receive a supply of 50 diapers per child per month. This will enable families to stretch out their own supply of diapers. HomeFront is open Monday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Tuesday from noon to 8 p.m.
Sarah Steward, HomeFront’s chief operating officer, told the attendees last week that HomeFront was grateful for their efforts and for the efforts of all those who donated boxes of diapers for the fledgling Diaper Resource Center.
Steward said the diaper donation is one way to honor the donors’ own mothers who cared for them, and it also provides another set of mothers with the ability to take care of the children they love.
Diapers are a necessity to keep a child healthy and safe, Steward said. One of three families suffers from “diaper insufficiency,” she said, adding that “the diaper need is real.”
Diapers are needed if a baby is going to be placed in daycare or preschool, which in turn allows parents to hold down jobs to support the family, she said.
But diapers are expensive, Steward said. A family could easily spend $150 per month on diapers, which is a lot of money to spend when there is only about $200 left over every month after paying the bills, she said.
Lacking an adequate supply of diapers, mothers like Stacey Downing must make difficult choices. Downing said she would wrap her daughter in a towel instead of a diaper to stretch out the number of diapers she had on hand.
Steward said the warehouse is full now, but said the supply of 100,000 diapers will likely be exhausted by December. There is an ongoing need to replenish the stock of diapers, she said.
That is why HomeFront is encouraging businesses, community groups, faith groups and individuals to hold diaper drives and to continue to donate diapers, Steward said.
For more information about the Diaper Resource Center or to make a donation, contact HomeFront at 609-989-9417 or online at www.homefrontnj.org