LOUIS ó They are such a hot commodity, pharmacies and stores
sometimes keep them behind glass.
the first line of defense against infection and disease ó
and are even linked to preventing depression and violence.
people will sometimes steal to get them.
is not a story about illicit pills or drug abuse. Itís about
disposable diapers, an item the poor need desperately.
are starting to realize "diaper need" not only
causes obvious health problems for children, but leads to
depression in moms and poor social and developmental outcomes
for the child ó even child abuse.
estimated that disposable diapers can cost up to $100 a month
for one baby. On average, a newborn goes through eight to 10
diapers a day, said Melinda Ohlemiller, CEO of Nurses for
with the organization see the diaper need firsthand with their
clients but can offer minimal help.
provide diapers for their mostly poor clients, Ohlemiller
said, the organization would need 8,000 to 10,000 diapers a
day. But the agency can supply only about 12 diapers to
established clients on an emergency basis.
its clients, Catalina Martinez of Overland, Mo., said she was
unable to work after having her second child. Itís been
difficult to afford diapers for a newborn and a toddler on her
boyfriendís salary. Sheís had to keep a diaper on her
child longer than she should.
even have tried to get my oldest one to potty train. But she
wouldnít train yet."
summer a study in the medical journal Pediatrics identified
"diaper need" among the poor as a growing health and
psychological risk for babies and their mothers.
study determined that as many as 30 percent of poor parents in
New Haven, Conn., struggled to afford diapers for their
infants. It further linked diaper need as a factor causing
maternal depression, which can also lead to poor outcomes for
just a great need Ö and no one is calling attention to
this," said DiAnne Mueller, CEO of Crisis Nursery, a St.
Louis-area child abuse prevention agency.
Nursery workers sometimes go door-to-door in poor
neighborhoods asking people what they need. The answer is
almost always the same: diapers and formula.
formula purchases can be federally subsidized, diapers are not
covered by food stamps through the federal Supplemental
Nutrition Assistance Program or the Special Supplemental
Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children, known as
result, some food pantries are inundated with requests for
disposable diapers. But the pantries donít get steady
donations of them and donít always have them on the shelves.
When they do, they fly out of the door, said Marcia
Mermelstein, coordinator of the Harvey Kornblum Jewish Food
Pantry in St. Louis.
giving people four to six diapers when in reality when most
people buy a box of diapers, theyíre getting 24 or 48. Itís
like giving one tiny bar of soap a month. Itís not enough,
itís a token gesture," Mermelstein said.
will take what they can get, she said.
taking diapers that are clearly too small and taping them
together and using whatever they can."
charitable agencies see the diaper need, they canít make
collecting and distributing diapers their first priority
because it takes away energy and donations from their main
we need diapers," Mermelstein said. "But in the
great scheme of things, we are a food pantry and the highest
priority is to give food for survival."
cities and regions have developed thriving diaper banks that
collect and promote donated diapers and act as a clearinghouse
to agencies like food pantries and community outreach centers.
to the National Diaper Bank Network in Connecticut, about 100
established diaper banks operate nationwide. Happy Bottoms in
Kansas City, Mo., for example, has distributed more than 1.5
million diapers to agencies that work with the poor.
Louis is only in the beginning stages of developing such a
Adams, a social worker, said she has filed the 501c paperwork
for the St. Louis Area Diaper Bank and hopes to begin taking
donations and making partnerships with agencies soon.
think the biggest issue in St. Louis is thereís not a
roundtable conversation going on about diaper need," she
said. "So spreading the word to involve every agency will
said she realized the need after she went through a divorce
with a toddler and three older children. Money was scarce, and
she relied on food pantries to get by.
had to call family members for money for diapers," she
said. "Itís humiliating, absolutely humiliating."
for Newborns and Crisis Nursery workers hear of mothers
rinsing out disposable diapers and reusing them. More commonly
they see horrid cases of diaper rash.
said when a baby presents with bad rashes and even staph
infections people unfairly conclude mothers are neglectful.
But further questioning almost always reveals families are
keeping the diapers on longer than they should because they
donít have enough.
are mandatory. Theyíre not optional," said Ohlemiller.
"And yet families are making really hard decisions: Are
we going to buy diapers or formula or are we going to buy
food? That stress is putting a lot of hardships on
diapers can be more expensive for the poor because most donít
have enough cash on hand to buy diapers in bulk at a cheaper
cost per diaper. So they resort to buying smaller packages at
higher prices. If a family lacks a working car, they often buy
diapers at the local convenience store, where the price
said cheaper cloth diapers are typically not an option for the
poor who often lack working washers and dryers. Coin laundries
often ban diapers in their machines for sanitary reasons.
care centers are another obstacle. Day cares often ban cloth
diapers for sanitary and logistical reasons. Mothers using day
cares are often in a double bind: They canít use cloth
diapers, and if they run out of disposable diapers, they canít
send their child to day care. Without day care, moms canít
said families sometimes force toilet training on children who
are not developmentally ready and fail, adding further stress
in the household.
long-term issues of diaper needs are more chilling, said
Mueller. Babies and toddlers with sore bottoms are cranky, so
they cry more and bond less.
we see is a higher rate of child abuse," said Mueller.
"The child is unable to be consoled, and the parent
already has such limited resources both financially and
emotionally. If the baby keeps crying and crying, it really
gets to most anyone, so the risk of injury to the child is
certainly much higher."