The Diaper Bank Boom

Diaper banks spread across US to meet overlooked need. In three years, the number of diaper banks across the US has increased five-fold

August 4, 2015 9:00AM ET
by Azure Gilman – @azuregilman

The National Diaper Bank Network was launched in 2011 with the simple idea of providing help to parents who struggle with the costs involved with rearing a baby. Starting with four local diaper banks, and aided by an initial donation of 20 million diapers from Huggies, the aim was to help people open up other centers across the U.S. where families can get diapers more easily, collect best practices and have a single voice to raise awareness about the need for diapers for low-income families and parents living in poverty.

Since then, the number of diaper banks has multiplied into the hundreds, according to the National Diaper Bank Network. “We think in large part it’s come from the fact that we’ve been able to talk about it more, and more people recognize that this is a real problem,” said Joanne Goldblum, executive director of the National Diaper Bank Network. “In that time we’ve seen so much conversation about the income gap and the wealth gap that exists in America.”

In 2012, the National Diaper Bank Network worked with 54 diaper banks. That number rose to 108 in 2013, 226 in 2014 and over 250 by 2015. The network operates on an annual donation of 20 million diapers from Huggies. Individual diaper banks also run their own diaper drives and fundraisers. In 2014, National Diaper Bank Network affiliated organizations distributed 36.8 million diapers to more than 1 million children.

The first diaper bank in Texas opened up in 2011, and now there are roughly 10 diaper bank programs in the state. Jorge Medina, the executive director of the Texas Diaper Bank, said that the organization started up after they noticed a huge unmet demand: “We found some agencies that were supposedly providing diaper assistance, only to find out that when clients would go to these agencies, they would get one to two diapers. So imagine a person or a parent that’s taking a bus and going to these clinics and only gets two diapers.”

With an initial goal of serving 500 families, they served 1,500 in their first year, and soon became a regional partner of the National Diaper Bank Network. They now distribute roughly 70,000 diapers to over 1,000 children every month.

The Diaper Bank of Southern Arizona, the first diaper bank in America, has been around in one form or another since 1994. Last year, they gave out 1.2 million diapers in the 10 counties that they serve. They estimate, however, that the need is closer to 8 million diapers.

“We’re just scratching the surface of the need,” said Trishnak Trachsel, program manager at the Diaper Bank of Southern Arizona. “But we’re doing the best we can.

What happens when accessing basic hygiene products and necessities is an everyday struggle?

By Christa Davis and Dr. Maria Lourdes F. Reyes

We’ve all experienced the discomfort of a hygiene “incident”: running out of soap before showering, forgetting to brush our teeth, or needing to change our baby’s diaper only to realize we’ve used the last diaper in the pack! These occurrences are annoying, but also manageable.

But what happens when accessing basic hygiene products and necessities is an everyday struggle? This is the reality millions of mothers, children and families across the world, including the United States.

Nearly one in three low-income families find it difficult to afford basic household necessities and nearly three in four low-income families report cutting back on food in order to afford household goods in the United States. [1] In order to make ends meet, these families report having to bathe without soap, reuse diapers and wash only the children’s clothes in an effort to promote good hygiene among their children. [2]

Fulfilling basic hygiene needs are essential building blocks to living productive and healthy lives. A mother needs a reliable supply of diapers in order to send her child to childcare, therefore enabling her to work and earn an income. A child must be fed and comfortable so he or she can learn in school. A family requires soap in order to keep themselves clean and presentable for employment.