Hamptons Community Outreach Organizes Diaper Distribution To Address Diaper Shortage in Area - 27 East

Hamptons Community Outreach Organizes Diaper Distribution To Address Diaper Shortage in Area

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Marit Molin,  Heather Edwards and Chuck MacWhinnie distribute diapers on a rainy Saturday in the parking lot at the Unitarian Universalist Church in Bridgehampton.  DANA SHAW

Marit Molin, Heather Edwards and Chuck MacWhinnie distribute diapers on a rainy Saturday in the parking lot at the Unitarian Universalist Church in Bridgehampton. DANA SHAW

Heather Edwards, Marit Molin and Chuck MacWhinnie distribute diapers on a rainy Saturday in the parking lot at the Unitarian Universalist Church in Bridgehampton.  DANA SHAW

Heather Edwards, Marit Molin and Chuck MacWhinnie distribute diapers on a rainy Saturday in the parking lot at the Unitarian Universalist Church in Bridgehampton. DANA SHAW

Ale Monroy and Heather Edwards distribute diapers on a rainy Saturday in the parking lot at the Unitarian Universalist Church in Bridgehampton.  DANA SHAW

Ale Monroy and Heather Edwards distribute diapers on a rainy Saturday in the parking lot at the Unitarian Universalist Church in Bridgehampton. DANA SHAW

Heather Edwards and Ale Monroy distribute diapers on a rainy Saturday in the parking lot at the Unitarian Universalist Church in Bridgehampton.  DANA SHAW

Heather Edwards and Ale Monroy distribute diapers on a rainy Saturday in the parking lot at the Unitarian Universalist Church in Bridgehampton. DANA SHAW

authorCailin Riley on Oct 3, 2022

When it comes to helping families in need, the focus is often on the obvious necessities — food, shelter, clothing.

But there is one item that often falls under the radar, even though it is just as vital as the rest.

As many as one out of every three families in the U.S. lack enough diapers to keep a baby clean, dry and healthy. Despite the obvious fact that diapers are essential goods to have on hand for families with babies and toddlers, the cost is not subsidized by any government assistance programs like WIC or SNAP, leaving many families in a bad situation that can have far reaching consequences.

Not only does a lack of clean diapers compromise the health of a child, it also can wreak even more havoc on families already in a tenuous financial position. Most child care centers, even some free and subsidized facilities, require parents to send in a day’s supply of diapers — roughly six to eight diapers per child. Parents who cannot afford diapers or run out and don’t have money to buy new ones are often in a position where they have to take off from work to care for their child because they cannot send him or her to daycare without them. A study conducted by the National Diaper Bank Network and Huggies found that parents who struggled with diaper need missed an average of four days of work per month.

To help combat that issue locally, Hamptons Community Outreach — a local nonprofit that helps youth, families and others in need in a variety of ways — partnered with the Allied Foundation, a regional nonprofit, for a diaper distribution event on Saturday, October 1. Despite the bad weather caused by the remnants of Hurricane Ian, the organizations teamed up and distributed more than 26,000 diapers to families in need throughout the East End.

Additionally, Hamptons Community Outreach also gathered and distributed 500 boxes of period supplies for women and teens in the area, recognizing and addressing another need that often is forgotten but is vital as well. Just as a lack of diapers can lead to parents having to take off from work or children missing out on vital days of early childhood education, lack of access to feminine hygiene products can lead to young girls and teens skipping school on days when they have their period, and then falling behind academically.

The diapers and period supplies were brought to the Unitarian Universalist Church on the Bridgehampton-Sag Harbor Turnpike and were distributed from there by a network of volunteers to several different communities in need in the area.

“We really wanted to raise awareness about the severe need for affordable diapers,” said Marit Molin, executive director of Hamptons Community Outreach. “Getting diapers is a big struggle for local families.”

Molin pointed out that many local food pantries do not always have diapers to hand out — or that, for one reason or another, families who need diapers cannot physically get to the pantries to pick them up — and also added that there is no official diaper bank in Suffolk County.

That’s where the Allied Foundation comes in.

The nonprofit was formed in 2015 by pediatricians working in the Allied Physicians Group, a network that extends from the East End and the North Fork all the way to Brooklyn and Queens, encompassing a total of 36 pediatric practices.

Executive Director Heather Edwards explained the genesis and mission of the nonprofit.

“Our physicians started seeing patient populations reusing diapers, or keeping them on for extended periods of time, which led to rashes, and, in some extreme cases, hospitalization,” she explained. “They wanted to do something to help families who are struggling to afford diapers. When you’re on government assistance, the only benefits you have access to are WIC and SNAP, and those are all nutrition based. There’s no funding allocated to purchase diapers with government assistance.”

The Allied Foundation formed its own diaper bank in 2017, becoming a member of the National Diaper Bank Network. Since then, the foundation either distributes directly from its own locations or collaborates with partners like Hamptons Community Outreach, which it supplies with the diapers and then relies on to distribute them in the community.

Edwards said that the foundation was particularly happy to partner with HCO.

“We know that there’s a high incidence of poverty on the East End of Long Island, and as we’re expanding our distribution model, we’ve started to look for partners on the East End who have the wherewithal to help families,” she said. “Partnering with them has really helped us get diapers to the East End.”

The end goal, Edwards said, was to “impact as many families as we can.” She also pointed out that last week was designated as National Diaper Need Week, making it a perfect time to raise awareness about the issue.

Molin said that Hamptons Community Outreach has been making an effort to help source and distribute diapers to local families for the past several years, through multiple diaper drives in schools and the community. She said the need has been particularly obvious since the start of the pandemic.

HCO provides diapers to several local food pantries, and the directors of those pantries will often call HCO when they have clients in need of diapers, Molin said.

The one-two punch of the pandemic and inflation has made diaper need an even more acute issue in recent months. It can cost upward of $100 per month to buy enough diapers for one child, and for families with more than one child in diapers at a time, it’s a cost that can quickly get out of hand.

“Many families reach out to us, and because of the rising costs, it’s forcing more and more people to choose between food and diapers,” Molin said. “Not changing your child’s diaper is linked to numerous health issues. People will get creative — they’ll put paper towels in plastic bags. We’ve heard all kinds of stories.”

Edwards understands firsthand how expensive diapers can be. Her children are teenagers now, but before her oldest child turned 2, she gave birth to twins, leaving her with three children under the age of 2, all in diapers.

“I can’t imagine not having the resources to afford diapers for my baby,” she said, pointing out that the emotional toll that not being able to provide for a child takes on parents, mothers in particular, shouldn’t be ignored.

Raising awareness around just how widespread the need for diapers is, with one in three families struggling to afford them, and how wide-reaching the consequences are for families who don’t have enough, is part of the important work the foundation does, Edwards said.

“I feel the work we do makes an impact. It helps families bridge that gap and keep their baby healthy,” she said.

“At the end of the day, if you don’t have enough clean diapers for your baby, their health will be compromised,” she added.

Edwards also pointed out that the foundation has been advocating on the national level about the issue. She pointed out that there has been some progress, with New York State recently passing a law eliminating tax on diaper purchases in the state.

“We’re pushing for allocating federal funds [to subsidize the cost of diapers] for families on government assistance,” she said. “I think we will see some relief at some point. It would be great if diaper banks didn’t have to exist, but right now there are no options, so our efforts remain important.”

For now, Edwards and the Allied Foundation, along with partners like Hamptons Community Outreach, remain focused on the bottom line.

“Diapers are an essential need, not a luxury,” she said. “It’s just as important as food and housing.”

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