by COLLEEN WILSON
Capital News Service
A closet on the third floor of an office building on Riva Road in Annapolis is not stocked with your typical office supplies: Food Link, Inc. has floor-to-ceiling stacks of diapers, baby bottles, canned foods and other basic-need items the organization collects to distribute to parents in need.
Food Link disseminates its diaper stock to seven food pantries throughout Anne Arundel County, which offer perishable and nonperishable foods and other items, such as diapers and bottles, to families that can’t afford many basic needs.
The group is part of the National Diaper Bank Network, and the second week in September marks National Diaper Need Awareness Week: seven days dedicated to holding diaper drives, garnering support and beefing up awareness for parents who struggle to provide these items for their children.
Across the nation, local community organizations are collecting diapers and spreading the word about the National Diaper Bank Network, a nonprofit group formed to help new and existing diaper banks. The network distributes donated diapers to nonprofit organizations and volunteer groups that provide services for local communities, like Food Link in Annapolis and Baby Basics, in Hagerstown.
“You have a baby at home and it’s getting close to payday. You’ve got to have gas in your car and diapers for the baby, you don’t have enough money for both…you end up buying gas for the car,” said Charles Brown, executive director of Baby Basics. “So we started a program where we’ll take a baby on from the day they’re born until the age of 3 and furnish them with every diaper they need so that you never have that quandary, ‘Do I buy gas or do I buy diapers this week?’”
The National Diaper Bank Network was established in 2011 and has grown to more than 150 diaper banks, said Executive Director Joanne Goldblum.
Donations come from people in the community and also corporate sponsors, such as Huggies, which donates more than 20 million diapers to the network each year, Goldblum said.
“What diaper banks do is address a variety of different needs, and impact parents’ lives in different ways. Some of the ways they do so is alleviate stress and help families to be able to work and get themselves out of poverty,” she said.
In addition to Food Link and Baby Basics, the network is also affiliated with the Walk the Walk Foundation in Millersville.
A nonprofit since 2005, Walk the Walk began its diaper bank almost two years ago and have since conducted two annual diaper drives. The group has disseminated approximately 50,000 diapers, said Chelsea MacCubbin, the foundation’s spokeswoman.
Cathy Bird, Food Link’s executive director, said, “We got involved with the National Diaper Bank [Network] last year because we’re always looking for resources and there aren’t that many grants out there that would enable us to buy products all the time and get large-scale donations.”
Food Link’s Emergency Baby Pantry Program is one of four programs the organization offers local families with financial need. The pediatric pantry is a resource for other organizations throughout the county as well, such as Healthy Start, which provides home visits and basic healthcare services to families at or below the poverty level.
“We’re a resource for [Healthy Start], and they’ve also asked us to keep certain things in the pantry so that they might be able to have them when they actually go out and make the calls to the families,” Bird said.
Currently, Baby Basics supports about 40 infants and toddlers from families that don’t qualify for government assistance beyond the federal food and nutrition program, Women, Infants, and Children, better known as WIC.
The group, which started in 2007, uses 100 percent of its donations toward buying diapers, Brown said.
Goldblum noted that across the nation, diaper bank workers provide important assistance to families in need.
“We’re really lucky. It is a great group of people and it’s all individuals who start diaper banks. … They’re run mostly on a shoestring, they get a lot done and it’s just a great group of people throughout the country who are doing this,” Goldblum said.
Photo: Cathy Bird, executive director of the Annapolis-based Food Link Inc., has supplies to assist needy families and participates in a nationwide network of diaper banks. Capital News Service photo by Sarah Polus.