Diaper debacle

The overflowing box of diapers spilled across the table at the Refuge’s Greenwood-based food pantry.

Charles Lindsey kept bringing items in from his car — newborn-size diapers, sensitive baby wipes, soap and more. He had purchased the items with money raised through his nonprofit group, Awaken Hope.

The donation is part of his effort to ensure that needy families in Johnson County have diapers for their children.

One in three families in the U.S. cannot afford to buy diapers regularly, even though the items are essential for child health. Without diapers, children cannot go to child care. That makes it difficult for parents to work and earn money for their families.

Awaken Hope, a Greenwood group, is working to make sure that no child goes without diapers. The organization raises money to purchase diapers, baby wipes, soap, shampoo and other hygiene items.

“They’re trapped in a circle. These moms want to work, but they can’t get a job because they don’t have clean diapers to take to daycare,” Lindsey said. “No one’s doing this on this big of a scale, that we know of. To be able to impact statewide, it’s huge. Kids are suffering.”

According to data compiled by the National Diaper Bank Network, more than 250,000 children younger than age 3 live in Indiana. About 25 percent of those kids live in families who earn less than the federal poverty guideline, which for a family of four is $24,300.

The problem is that food stamps, more formerly known as SNAP, do not cover hygiene items such as diapers.

The only federal assistance program that can be used for diapers is Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, a program providing assistance to families with children younger than 18. But families receiving this assistance also rely on that money to pay for utilities, rent, clothing, transportation and other basic needs.

A single parent with two children receives $288 each month through the program. If diapers cost on average $80 per month, that leaves just $200 for the rest of their expenses.

“The truth is that one in five American children live in poverty. We’re looking at different ways both to talk about that and to change that. One of the things we know about families in poverty struggle to meet their basic needs. That includes diapers,” said Joanne Goldblum, executive director of the National Diaper Bank Network. “We think it’s really important to have a national voice showing how the small things impact the big things.”

Local food pantries try to fill the gaps when they can.

At the Refuge, coordinator Marcie Farley tries to purchase hygiene items when they have extra money. Though the emphasis is on ensuring families have proper nutrition, Farley understands that some of these items are just as important to families’ survival.

“About twice a week I go to the store to buy toilet paper, shampoo, all those things that we need. Those are types of things we don’t get a lot of, but that’s the kind of thing we try to give every client,” Farley said. “We want to be able to stock them up as much as they can when they do come here.”

The Interchurch Food Pantry served more than 3,100 households last year, providing them with fresh and non-perishable food. But diapers are a perpetually in-demand item that they don’t ever seem to have enough of, co-director Carol Phipps said.

She estimates that 5 percent of the time, the pantry has diapers to distribute. On occasion, a church or organization will conduct a diaper drive, providing more boxes to hand out.

“Since our focus is food, we try to ask for food donations that meet the needs of most of the clients,” Phipps said. “We hope that by providing food to families, they’re able to save on food purchases and use their limited funds for other needed things like diapers.

“All that being said, we see a demand for diapers by those seeking services.”

People are beginning to awaken to how serious the diaper need is.

President Barack Obama announced in March an initiative between the White House, online retailers, diaper manufacturers and nonprofits to partner and expand access to diapers for families in need.

The National Diaper Bank Network was formed in 2010 by smaller community groups in Washington, Illinois, Connecticut and Arizona to provide more comprehensive diaper coverage. Together with founding sponsor Huggies, the bank works with partner groups throughout the country to coordinate diaper distribution.

“Most people can’t imagine going a month without shopping for diapers and those kind of hygiene items. It gives people something to think about,” Goldblum said.

Unfortunately, their reach is still limited. In Indiana, only 10 groups belong to the network.

Awaken Hope is one of the most recent additions.

The nonprofit was born in 2011, following a conversation between Lindsey and his wife, Holly. The couple were moved by the devastation of the tornado that hit Joplin, Missouri, and wanted to do something to help.

They ended up purchasing boxes of supplies for the families affected by the tragedy. Among the pallets and piles of food, water and other essential supplies, they didn’t see many of the toiletries that people would need once their immediate needs were met.

“Talking with the Red Cross, that was a big issue. They had enough to help people for a week or two, but these were people who lost everything. What was going to happen to them a month down the road?” Lindsey said.

The couple decided to start a ministry helping the families of Joplin — and others in need — with those basic items.

But at the end of 2015, they started working with National Diaper Bank Network. The state had only six outlets for distributing diapers, and the need in Indiana was huge.

During the past six months, the Lindseys have called more than 150 food banks and pantries the gauge the need for diapers and other hygiene items.

“Everyone said the same thing: They don’t have so much of a problem getting food, thanks go Gleaners and places like that. The real issue is the toiletries,” Lindsey said. “Every week, there are thousands of families who are making the choice: either buying ramen noodles and food, or buying diapers and shampoo and toilet paper.”

They joined the National Diaper Bank Network, while expanding into toothbrushes, deodorant and other items.

The goal is to take their effort statewide, coordinating deliveries of items and getting them to the pantries that need them, Lindsey said. Much like Gleaners warehouses food and organizes distribution to food banks across the state, Awaken Hope would pass out diapers and toiletries.

Eventually, they would like to expand the organization to every state in the U.S., then internationally. Already, an outpost has been established with pastor friends of the Lindseys in Tennessee.

“Here is a niche that we’ve found isn’t being met statewide,” Charles Lindsey said. “We want to supply these items to the food banks and food pantries, who are already working with those who are struggling.”

For the time being, the Lindseys are working out of their Greenwood home. But the organization is in the process of looking for a building where it can store, organize and distribute the goods it buys.

They are working with groups such as the Refuge in Greenwood, as well as food banks in North Vernon and Stilesville.

They have received a grant from the Simon Foundation to help support the mission.

“We know that every month, families are struggling,” Lindsey said. “If we can meet a need of hygiene items, then that frees up money. Not only that, but as parents, it gives you some hope. It fends off depression and fear. You think you can make it.”

At a glance

Awaken Hope International

What: A nonprofit group aimed at collecting diapers, baby wipes, soap, shampoo and other hygiene items for the needy in Johnson County, Indiana and Tennessee. Eventually the organization wants to expand throughout the U.S. and the world.

Where: Greenwood

Who: Greenwood residents Charles and Holly Lindsey

How to help: Go to awakenhope.org to become a drop-off location, conduct a diaper drive, volunteer or donate.

Diaper Need in Indiana

Diaper facts

250,287: Total Indiana population under age 3

26 percent: Infants and toddler living below the poverty level.

$18: Average weekly cost of adequate supply of diapers per child.

$936: Average yearly cost for diapers per child.

65 percent: Indiana mothers with infants in the workforce.

11 percent: Cost of infant care as a percentage of income for a two-parent family.

38 percent: Cost of infant care as a percentage of income for a single-parent family.

1,030,210: Diapers distributed by the National Diaper Bank Network in Indiana last year.

— Information from the National Diaper Bank Network and Pediatrics Vol. 132, Number 2.

Ryan Trares is a reporter for the Daily Journal. He can be reached at rtrares@dailyjournal.net or 317-736-2727.