Diaper pantry turns two, faces growing need

First United Methodist Church this weekend celebrates the second birthday of Bundled Blessings, a diaper ministry striving to meet a growing need for diaper assistance in Evanston.

Since its launch in the fall of 2013, Bundled Blessings has worked to meet the shortfall between what a low income family can spend on diapers each month and the actual number of diapers needed to keep infants and toddlers clean and dry. Research reported by the National Diaper Bank Network suggests this gap averages 50 diapers.

Chaired by Krys Juleen and Diane Pieterse, Bundled Blessings started serving 20 Evanston families. Team member Sue Hagedorn reports that the diaper pantry now works with six partner social service agencies and meets the “diaper gap” for 120-150 children each month — 6,000-7,500 diapers.

Helen Hurry has served as the Family Focus liaison with Bundled Blessings since its inception. Fifty of her families receive monthly diaper assistance. All of them live below the federal poverty line, and many, says Hurry, “live doubled up with other families in cramped studio, one- or two-bedroom apartments.”

Nearly 40 families with the Childcare Network of Evanston, another partner agency, receive monthly diapers. Director of Programs Crystal Elliott-O’Connor says that some, but not all, of these families have been stuck in the cycle of poverty for generations.

Some families were financially secure until a stroke, heart attack or other illness struck. Other parents are full-time high school or college students and/or immigrants, often from war-torn countries. All are struggling to improve their families’ quality of life.

“The cost to keep a child in diapers is exorbitant,” says Elliott-O’Connor -- about $100 a month. Antasia Maddox of Y.O.U. knows just how high that figure is. She works with a group of teen mothers who receive diaper assistance. Most are unemployed or homeless, have minimum wage jobs, and some have more than one child.

They don’t have the resources to change diapers as often as needed, or to buy wipes, and they frequently must choose between buying diapers and paying for rent, food, heat, and transportation. “Sometimes they will go without eating for a day so they can buy some diapers,” reports Maddox.

The stress on these parents is enormous, and a baby or young child who is crying because she is wet and uncomfortable clearly adds to that stress. With the monthly assistance from Bundled Blessings, says Elliott-O’Connor, “We can ease some of that burden – maybe alleviate the need to buy diapers one week.”

She suggests that the diapers from Bundled Blessings stave off, at least temporarily, the “emergency mode” in which so many of these families operate. Maddox believes the assistance Bundled Blessings provides these struggling parents is more than a stack of diapers.

“It really makes a difference in their lives. This is one area in their lives that they can depend on,” she says. Elliott-O’Connor reports that the CNE program is growing significantly, and many of those additional families will likely need diaper assistance. Bundled Blessings is the only diaper pantry in this community.

The diaper ministry team works hard to generate outside support. Red barrels in nine locations around Evanston collect diapers from the general public. Schools, businesses and other groups in the area have held 10 diaper drives for Bundled Blessings, and last spring the diaper pantry received a grant from Rotary International.

Yet the First Church congregation continues to be a major source of support for this diaper ministry. On Nov. 22, Bundled Blessings will celebrate its second birthday after worship in Great Hall. Visitors can stop by for a piece of cake and help count and pack diapers for next month’s pick-up day or make a donation to the program.

This story was written by Mary Taylor-Johnson and originally appeared in the "Faith at First" newsletter of First United Methodist Church of Evanston. Reprinted with permission.

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