According to an informal poll of moms, infants use between eight and 10 diapers per day, or about 70 in a week. Now, imagine if a baby only had 50 diapers to get through the month?
Well, this is a very real dilemma for many low and medium-income, Chicago-area babies.
The pilot program, which began in July and is set to last for 12 months, has a goal of distributing 6 million diapers to area families in need, many of whom have been especially impacted by the pandemic.
This effort comes as welcome news to thousands of Chicago area families as well as to Nancy Magallanes, a parent educator and outreach coordinator for Metropolitan Family Services.
Magallanes, who works with young, low-income moms, ages 13 to 24, said she is aware of the painful results on a baby’s bottom whose family simply does not have enough money to change their diapers often as needed.
In fact, typically, these young parents are choosing between food and rent over buying the adequate supply of diapers. The result is babies sitting in their diapers hours longer than ideal, resulting in painful rashes and infection. The infections can also lead to mental health stressors including getting the baby to the doctor, medical bills, costs of medicines and so on, she said.
“It’s a vicious cycle,” Magallanes said.
While there is some access to free diapers throughout various community resources, there still is not enough. Metropolitan Family Services, which currently serves 48 families in the Southwest Side of Chicago, is only able to provide 50 diapers per child, per month, she said.
“We are only able to provide so many diapers,” Magallanes said. “It is awesome to have this extra resource and hopefully it continues. This collaboration eases the stressors of the young parents in need of diapers.”
GCFD is coordinating the deliveries to 50 of its partners serving high priority communities in Cook County as the program ramps up in the coming months. This effort reflects the food depository’s long-term strategy of investing in lower-income communities of color and addressing the related challenges, including diaper need which compounds food insecurity. Share Our Spare, the leading provider of essential items for Chicago children ages 0-5, will procure and deliver the diapers.
GCFD will pay the estimated $1 million cost of the pilot program. The money was raised by GCFD’s donors during the pandemic.
Unmet diaper need is cited as the number one mental health stressor for new parents as many government assistance programs do not cover diapers. Diapers can cost an average family $70 to $80 per month per child in diapers, which is equal to about 14 percent of the monthly income of families experiencing poverty, according to information provided by GCFD.
The pandemic only made this already bleak scenario worse.
“We know that so many families in Chicago and throughout Cook County are struggling because of the economic impact of the pandemic,” said Jaqi Panizzo, manager of food access for the depository. “Child hunger soared during the pandemic, particularly among Black and Latino households. We know that when families experience economic hardship, food is not their only concern, and we’ve heard from our community partners that there’s a growing need for diapers.” Panizzo said GCFD is committed to serving its neighbors in need of food assistance and other essential items, such as diapers.
“Once the program is operating at full capacity in September, the network of community partners selected to participate in this pilot program will receive 550,000 diapers monthly,” Panizzo said. “That means that 22,000 packs of diapers will be available to households each month.”
As the end of the 12-month program approaches, the agencies will reassess with the hope of creating a sustainable diaper program to meet the evolving needs of its clients, Panizzo said.
Share Our Spare was founded 10 years ago by Amy Kadens, a new mom who at the time living in Chicago realized the costs of having a new born.
“After the birth of our first daughter, my eyes were opened to the exorbitant costs of raising a child and the staggering need for infant and toddler supplies for so many in our community,” said Kadens who today lives in the Northshore. “Being a parent with every available resource is hard enough. The thought of having to make impossible choices between providing essentials for my family and paying bills or putting food on the table was too overwhelming for me not to do something.”
Today, through partnerships with about 100 agencies covering roughly 200 zip codes, SOS serves children in need in Cook, Lake, DuPage, McHenry and Kane counties.
Kadens said she is “humbled” to be working with the GCFD. However, she noted that even though they are supplying 6 million diapers this year, the effort is just “scratching the surface.”
This year, SOS anticipates serving about 40,000 children, not including the partnership with the GCFD, which will allow them to reach an additional 65,000 children, said Alex Goodfellow, executive director of SOS.
“The biggest message for us to get across is one in three kids have an unmet diaper need and it is not just low-income families it could be your neighbor,” Goodfellow said adding diapers are not typically covered by government agencies such as WIC or Food Stamps. “What research has shown is (need for assistance) comes across all demographics of people. We really want to help support the kids in Chicago to have the things they need to be supported.”
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Amanda Marrazzo lives in the northwest Chicago suburb of Algonquin. She has been a news reporter for 25 years, including 17 years writing for the Chicago Tribune. She is married with two adult daughters and two dogs.