“There are hazards associated with babies not having clean diapers”
Tuesday, September 28, 2021
Sharon Lyles of the Central Florida Diaper Bank, in her East Winter Garden warehouse. Last year, she gave out nearly 1.5 million diapers to families in need.
Sharon Lyles is standing in the middle of her East Winter Garden warehouse, and she is a little concerned. Although her Central Florida Diaper Bank (CFDB) warehouse is stacked practically to the ductwork with boxes and packages of every size and brand of diaper made today — including those for adults — Lyles is expecting still more to be delivered this morning. A large shipment of donated diapers is coming by truck. Only the truck is late. And she can’t reach the driver.
Having enough diapers is something of a mission for Lyles, CEO of the nonprofit diaper bank she started in 1995. The way she tells the story, when her now 33-year-old daughter was an infant, there was a day when Lyles was down to her very last diaper “and the adhesive strip on that diaper would not stick.”
“I did not know where I was going to get another diaper from,” Lyles recalls. “It was just a horrible feeling, looking into my daughter’s eyes and not knowing how I was going to get another diaper.”
Any parent who’s ever faced a diaper blowout with a single diaper in the caddy knows that special panic. But it’s a whole different sublevel of desperation when you don’t know if you will ever have another diaper. From that panicked desperation came her diaper bank. Funded through government, corporate and private donations, CFDB is one of 14 diaper banks operating throughout Florida. Last year, she distributed nearly 1.5 million free diapers to families that needed them.
“The diaper bank was formed as a passion and a belief that no parent should ever go without having a sufficient supply of diapers for their children,” says Lyles.
A BIGGER STRESS THAN HUNGER
Not having enough diapers is known by health professionals and those who study poverty as “diaper need.” It’s the difference between the number of diapers a baby or toddler requires (between six and 10 a day depending on age) and what mom and dad can afford to purchase after paying for other necessities like rent, food, utilities, transportation and clothing.
During National Diaper Need Awareness Week (which runs through Oct. 3), Lyles and her diaper bank are calling attention to the significant toll that diaper shortages take on families. A national survey done in 2017 by the National Diaper Bank Network found that more than one in three American families struggle with diaper need. Given the pandemic and resulting economic crisis, it’s reasonable to expect the numbers may be even higher today.
Diaper need is a bigger stressor than food insecurity, according to a Yale University study, which found a strong correlation between diaper need and maternal depression. Perhaps that’s because, unlike food — which is covered by SNAP (the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program commonly known as “food stamps”) and WIC (Special Supplemental Assistance Program for Women, Infants and Children), along with any number of local food pantries — little government assistance exists for purchasing diapers, which are conservatively estimated to cost families $1,500 a year. Costs are likely higher when families don’t have ready access to bulk shopping or even a supermarket and instead need to rely on smaller, pricier packages from convenience stores. Also, SNAP and WIC, which are federal programs, cannot be used to buy diapers or wipes, and diapers can’t always be found in pantries devoted to food.
The one federal program that can be tapped for diapers is TANF (Temporary Aid to Needy Families). But in Florida, as in much of the South, monthly TANF benefits are historically paltry. For example, an eligible family of three may earn $362 per month in TANF benefits, a quarter of which will be spent on diapers, according to the Diaper Bank Network.
A BAD STRETCH
Still, the average household experiencing diaper need comes up 19 diapers short each month, according to the National Diaper Bank Network. What happens when parents try to make their supply last longer is that diapers don’t get changed as often. A study in Pediatrics found that 8 percent of parents experiencing diaper need wait longer between changes and even rinse out diapers to reuse them. This can lead to myriad health problems that go beyond diaper rash: staph, yeast and urinary tract infections and genital inflammation (vulvovaginitis in girls, balanitis in boys). And, thanks to babies’ need to put everything in their mouths, longer stretches between diaper changes are associated with all sorts of diarrheal infections, hepatitis A and viral meningitis, which can spread to family members.
Lack of diapers can also lead to missed work and school. Fifty-seven percent of parents using daycare said they’d missed four days of work in the last month when surveyed by the National Diaper Bank in 2017. Daycares typically require a day’s supply of diapers, and they simply didn’t have enough to leave with their children.
Add up the financial stress, feelings of maternal depression and inadequacy and an uncomfortable, crying baby, and the situation can be as volatile as parched grasslands during fire season.
“Diaper need leads to child abuse” says Lyles. “We need to let the community know that there are hazards associated with babies not having clean diapers.”
Lyles is doing her part on that front. Earlier this month, she secured proclamations from both Mayor John Rees of Winter Garden and Mayor Rusty Johnson of Ocoee to name this week National Diaper Need Awareness Week in their cities. For the past seven years, Winter Garden has also hosted diaper drives throughout September. This year’s drive, Lyles says, looks to be among the city’s most generous. Lyles is still tallying the numbers, but she guestimates it brought in about 5,000 diapers and 3,000 packs of baby wipes. Diapers and wipes can still be dropped off this week at City Hall (300 W. Plant St.). Look for the box in the lobby. Diapers can also be donated year-round at CFDB; call 407-656-7055 to make arrangements.
DIAPERS … AND MORE
Clients coming to CFDB typically get a monthly care package of donated products that includes at least 50 diapers. About a week’s worth of diapers (depending on the child), 50 is what the National Diaper Bank Network determined can help close the diaper need gap. Parents also receive baby wipes, hand sanitizer, baby formula and period products for moms — another necessity not covered by SNAP or WIC. Everything is free to parents. Typically the only requirement is that recipients work or go to school, even part-time, although with Covid, Lyles says, the rules have relaxed a little bit.
Lyles has partnerships with Orlando Health and the Department of Health that steer new parents her way from Lake, Osceola and Orange counties. Of the 1,235 children she diapers each month, she estimates that about 25 percent come from Winter Garden, another 10 percent from Ocoee. But while diapers bring people to her door, she takes the opportunity to do a full assessment to find out what else they need.
“Normally, they don’t need just a diaper,” she says.
Sometimes it’s food. Sometimes it’s job training. Sometimes it’s rental assistance, a need, she says, that pre-dated Covid and the end of the eviction moratorium. Sometimes it's parenting know-how and life skills training like budgeting, nutrition, health, self-care — all classes that her organization provides.
As we talk, a woman pulls up to the warehouse in a red sedan.
“I have diapers!” she calls out.
Lyles is ecstatic. That diaper truck still hasn’t arrived, but at least someone has diapers for her today. She rushes to introduce herself with a warm “I’m Sharon Lyles!,” and starts unloading the trunk. The lady has brought adult diapers. Her father had passed; now she’s donating the unopened packages.
“We just started taking incontinent supplies for adults,’ Lyles says. “My grandmother had Alzheimer’s. I brought her to live with me, and I had to take her every day, just like a child, to an adult day care. A lot of the adult daycares are nonprofit and incontinent supplies are one of the things they utilize, so our incontinent supplies will be donated to adult daycares.”
No sooner does the red sedan pull away then another car drives up. Out pops Jennifer Yon, entrepreneur and publisher of IBA Success Magazine, with her assistant Kate Shum. They’re here to record an interview with Lyles.
They set up the shoot and Lyles snaps into fundraising mode. “I want to talk about the power of a dollar,” she says looking straight at the camera. “For every $1 that you donate, it provides seven diapers for a parent. For every dollar that’s donated, I’m able to buy seven diapers. And those one dollars turn into bunches of dollars, which equals what you see in this warehouse.”
The video complete, Yon goes for her wallet and hands Lyles a ten. Later, she’ll create multiple Facebook posts, urging her followers to donate as well.
That’s 70 diapers plus the incontinence supplies. Not bad for barely 11 a.m. on a Tuesday.
And somewhere out there, Lyles knows, there’s a truck with even more diapers heading her way.