Hildy Gottlieb had, in her words, an epiphany after her company, Help 4 Nonprofits, began a diaper drive as a community service several years ago.
How It Started
Hildy Gottlieb and her business partner, Dimitri Petropolis, got their small business staff together and asked themselves how they could give back to their community in Tucson, Arizona.
One staff member suggested getting diapers together and donating them to a crisis nursery in Tucson and to a neighborhood center that served a low income neighborhood. To give some spine to the initiative, the group decided to do some press releases, get a radio station involved, and call their project a "Diaper Drive."
Hildy says, "That was about the extent of the planning that went into our first diaper drive, but we collected 20,000 diapers. The second year we collected 75,000 diapers and it grew and it grew and it grew. And by year five we were doing diaper drives in all of the schools, we were doing diaper drives at all the major employers. The radio station that worked with us devoted the entire month of December to the drive.
"At the end of that fifth diaper drive we collected 300,000 diapers. They were all in our 800 square foot consulting office. We couldn't move. We had taken six months out of our business to do the diaper drive. And we realized that, with that 300,000 diapers, we wound up giving to 30 different agencies because we had already met the needs of the two groups we had started with. At the same time, we realized that we weren't putting a dent into what the community needed."
How Can a Diaper Be that Important?
Hildy says, "All along we were learning what the issue of this simple commodity, diapers, meant to people."
As Hildy explains it:
There are no safety net programs that cover diapers. WIC doesn't cover diapers...it covers formula, but not diapers. WIC doesn't, food stamps doesn't; and, at the elderly end, Medicare does not unless you are in hospice. If you are six months away from dying, it will cover it, but if you are incontinent and healthy, then it doesn't cover it. That's number one.
Number two, diapers cost an average of $100 a month. People say what about cloth? Adult diapers don't come in cloth, and most daycares, especially daycares in low income areas, will not accept cloth diapers. The irony is that if you are wealthy and can demand, "I want my baby in cloth diapers," you can get cloth diapers. But low end daycares will not.
Diapers, from the infant all the way to the elderly, cost approximately $100 a month. If you are working full time at minimum wage, you are taking home between $800 and $850 a month. Now back out 100 bucks for diapers and see if you're going to buy diapers or pay rent.
So what happens is that you have a baby that is in a diaper for a day and two days and three days at a time because mom can't afford diapers. You have a mom who can't take her kid to daycare, therefore can't go to work because the daycare is subsidized, but the diapers are not.
You can go down the list and see all the ripples of how this simple, silly commodity of a diaper actually prevents and affects life. You've got child abuse because a baby's in a diaper and screaming.
And then there is elderly incontinence, which is one of the major causes of elder abuse, especially with elders that are living with family. One out of every five adults over the age of 65 is to some degree incontinent, and Medicare does not cover that. Besides that, the average social security benefit is around 800 bucks. It is another huge reason the elderly don't leave the house, because they don't want to be embarrassed.
Diaper companies don't donate diapers either. They only do that if you have sextuplets and massive media attention. There is simply no cheap source of diapers.
When we looked and saw how this simple thing is affecting so many issues, there was no choice for us. When people ask how did you make the decision to give up a couple of years of our lives to build the diaper bank, we say, there was no decision. When you know all of that and you know how to fix it, then you do it.