How do you collect 500,000 diapers in eight weeks? One box at a time.
That’s the goal that HomeFront has set by Mother’s Day on May 8 to help families who cannot afford to keep their babies in diapers.
HomeFront, which helps the homeless and the working poor, operates its own diaper resource center in a warehouse at its Family Preservation Campus in Ewing Township. The nonprofit group’s headquarters is in Lawrence Township.
Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, it was hard for parents to find enough money in the budget to pay for diapers and baby wipes, HomeFront officials said. It costs about $80 per month per child.
“Five years ago, we opened our Diaper Resource Center to address the fact that 1 in 3 mothers nationally does not have sufficient access to these types of baby products,” said Meghan Cubano, HomeFront’s Community Engagement coordinator.
HomeFront’s Diaper Resource Center distributed 760,400 diapers and baby wipes to parents in need in 2021 – either directly or indirectly by acting as a diaper bank for other nonprofit groups, Cubano said.
“We saw a tremendous jump in the need for baby products due to the pandemic and inflation driving up the cost of essentials for families. We distributed 84% more diapers and baby wipes than in 2020, so the Mother’s Day Diaper Challenge is critical to meeting the increased demand,” Cubano said.
There are no state or federal child safety net programs that allocate dollars specifically for the purchase of diapers. Food stamps cannot be used to pay for diapers, and that’s why HomeFront’s Diaper Resource Center is so important, HomeFront officials said.
The Diaper Resource Center creates some breathing room in the budget so families who are trying to make ends meet can have help in getting diapers. If that need goes unmet, parents need to make hard choices – like less frequent diaper changes.
“We have seen the most horrific cases of diaper rash because parents change diapers on a set schedule, as opposed to when there is need, because they just don’t have enough diapers,” said Connie Mercer, HomeFront’s executive director and founder.
Diapers are a necessity to keep a child healthy, Mercer said. The kind of shame that parents feel when they can’t keep their baby clean is overwhelming, she said.
But it’s more than just having enough diapers to keep a baby clean and dry, HomeFront officials said. Without diapers, a baby cannot take part in early childhood education – and without childcare, parents cannot hold down a job. Most childcare programs require parents to provide diapers.
“This is about helping parents work. If children need access to disposable diapers to attend a daycare program, without those diapers parents can’t go to work. Childcare is a critical link to help families get to work, and diapers are a key part of that,” Mercer said.
The Diaper Resource Center, which opened in 2018, had been a dream for Mercer since the days when a group of women – herself included – visited the motels along Brunswick Pike/Route 1 in Lawrence Township to feed hungry, homeless families.
“I had this dream for years. The moms would ask if we had diapers for them. We could not meet that need, and it broke my heart,” Mercer said.
While there are food banks that help families in need of food, such a resource does not exist for diapers and wipes. HomeFront’s Diaper Resource Center has stepped into the void and provides diapers to families in need, Mercer said.
To meet the Mother’s Day Diaper Challenge, diapers and wipes can be dropped off weekdays between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. at HomeFront’s headquarters at 1880 Princeton Ave. in Lawrence Township. They may also be dropped off on Saturday from 9 a.m. to noon.
For more information, call 609-989-9417, ext. 149 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.