Greater DC Diaper Bank, Silver Spring, MD
Not to over simplify, but babies really only need a few things: Food, Sleep, a Clean Diaper, and LOVE. Providing these needs comes easy for some, but may prove difficult for others due to a lack resources. Parenting in poverty must be THE MOST difficult challenge. Did you know that diapers, wipes, and feminine hygiene products are not typically covered by food stamps or WIC programs? These programs group diapers and wipes in with other items such as pet food and cigarettes excluding them from coverage. How can a healthy mother and child program exclude necessary items such as diapers and wipes? In addition, other necessary items such as tampons and sanitary napkins are taxed as luxury items in all but 9 states that have sales tax. For a woman living in a "first world country" like ours, feminine protection are luxuries?
Greater DC Diaper Bank (GDCDB) puts diapers, wipes, food, needed baby supplies, and feminine products into the hands of needy women across the Greater DC area. They distribute 180,000 diapers each month to over 4,000 families and serve approximately 8,000 babies a year. They don't distribute directly, but instead through 42 community partner organizations that provide comprehensive social services to women and children. This means that the diapers and wipes aren't the primary service of a program but accompany another valuable program or service.
Today, I packed diapers in bundles of 25 for distribution. This number I am told is the typical 'diaper deficit' a mother faces. The packing area looked much like a holiday gift wrapping station with hundreds of feet of plastic wrap at the top of our workstation and labels and diapers to either side. The area could accommodate about 16 workers and there were about 9 of us here today. At the beginning of the session, staff oriented us to the mission of GDCDB, gave us a tour, and then shown how to properly count and bundle the diapers. Again, as at the Capital Area Food Bank, this instruction/orientation set a great foundation for our work. Without it, we would simply be wrapping diapers. Instead, we were addressing a problem. We counted out the diapers, wrapped it snugly one way and then turned it to wrap the other way. The point was to wrap a tight and waterproof package that would arrive safely at home. My favorite part of the wrapping process was putting the label one that permitted us to add our signature. Now, it felt like a gift from me -- one mother to another mother!
Today, the volunteers were a bit different than at my other experiences. First, there was a father and teenage son duo that was great to see. Seeing men fiddle with diapers isn't something you see everyday! In addition to this duo was a father and daughter pair. Might I mention, that the daughter in this pair was about 4 years old and was the cutest little volunteer I ever did see! Her job was to run the newly packed bundles to the bin at the end of the assembly area. Her father explained that he was looking for positive things to do with her while her nursery school was on spring break. Hats off to this dad who really did a double mitzvah (or good deed) today -- teaching public service and doing public service! Perhaps you'll give this dad and daughter more credit when I share a vision of what the workspace at GDCDB looks like and then tell you she still stayed on task!
GDCDB is the first and only kid-friendly volunteer environment I've seen. Just beyond the office and before the work station, there is a large kid's play area. It's brightly painted and furnished with inviting toys and play stations. There are high chairs, bouncy seats, and other places to put a baby. I would have killed to have had a kid-friendly volunteer environment when my kids were little. One mom brought her babysitter while she worked and others, like this dad, could do both - work with their child and let their child play. The dad today drove a hard bargain -- there would be no playing, no matter how inviting, until his daughter worked for a certain length of time! She gladly accepted those terms.
GDCDB gives little reason not to volunteer as it could not be easier or more accommodating. Furthermore, once you are aware of the need and their way of solving it, you'll gladly want to drop off extra diapers and baby equipment. I promise, you won't be disappointed!
My Takeaways: (1) I LOVE everything about GDCDB -- their mission, the way they execute their program, the environment they've created, and the people behind the scenes. I HATE the problem they need to solve! Diapers are so expensive and are taxing on even the best of budgets. Parents in poverty have enough worries and difficulties - keeping their babies dry and comfortable should NOT be one. (2) WIC, food stamps, and state tax systems MUST address this void in coverage. It's unconscionable to me that diapers are excluded and feminine hygiene is taxed. This is an economic problem that ONLY affects women. Is this why it isn't solved? Are we really going to tolerate this? (3) I continue to find that organizations that take at least 10 minutes to orient volunteers to its mission, increases the value of the organization and volunteer experience. Though I usually ask a lot of questions on my own, I find that this practice of educating an interested and captive group is so effective for engagement and is very telling of the organization's strengths. (2) Having a kid-friendly volunteer environment isn't always possible, but when it is, it can engage interested volunteers who would otherwise not be given a chance to contribute and models service for young people right from the start. (3) Kids benefit from exposure and participation in public service. We shouldn't shy away from telling kids about difficult things such as poverty. They can understand and appreciate more than some think. As parents, raising our kids with public service by example is critical.