Imagine a baby or toddler being forced to sit in a wet, dirty diaper or an old plastic grocery bag because his or her parents can’t afford diapers. For anyone who has had a baby or been around a baby, this is practically unfathomable.
“It’s not a good way to start a life for any child,” says Pam Russell, the executive director of the Women & Children’s Center of the Sierra (WACCS). WACCS is the only program in Northern Nevada that provides a regular supply of diapers to low-income families. With a mission to help underserved women get the skills they needed to better help themselves and their families, WACCS knew it had to start with the basics.
“If their baby or toddler is suffering, parents are suffering, and it can be difficult to focus on anything else,” Russell shares.
The Importance of Diapers
But how do we know this a need that is so worthy of addressing? A study conducted by Yale University found that an inadequate supply of diapers was a stronger predictor of a mother’s mental health than lack of food. According to the study’s principal author Megan Smith, Doctor of Psychiatry at Yale School of Public Health, whether or not a baby has an adequate supply of diapers has an impact on that child’s future mental health. Babies exposed to wearing dirty diapers become angry and may develop detachment disorders because their caregiver is not meeting their needs.
Perhaps obviously, a lack of diapers also results in health concerns for babies. Mothers who do not have enough diapers are forced to clean out dirty diapers and reuse them, a dangerous practice which can lead to serious skin rashes and urinary tract infections (UTIs). According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, babies with untreated UTIs can suffer serious kidney damage. Additional health consequences include scarring, poor growth and high blood pressure.
“The babies can get terrible diaper rashes that can lead to kidney problems, but they’re also uncomfortable and cranky,” Russell says. “Meanwhile, the mom is feeling guilty and overwhelmed. And you can’t put kids in daycare without leaving a supply of disposable diapers, which makes working difficult.”
But families cannot use food stamps under the federal SNAP (food stamp) program to purchase diapers, and many do not have washing machines to clean cloth diapers.
The Role of WACCS
This is where WACCS steps in. Women who are income eligible — at or below 185 percent of poverty level ($39,460 for a family of 3) — can receive diapers four times in seven weeks. However, those who are enrolled in or regularly attend WACCS classes can receive diapers weekly. Participants are asked to make a donation of $1 when they pick up diapers, but nobody will be denied diapers if they are unable to make a donation.
“We want everyone who needs them to have diapers, but we also want to help women get the skills they need to help themselves and their families,” Russell explains. “So this is one way of persuading more people to participate in our programs.”
WACCS helps women escape poverty through the following resources: high school equivalency and English as a Second Language classes, job search programs, domestic violence assistance and more.
“When I first visited WACCS, I had five kids under the age of 5, and I needed help,” recalls Patty Sanchez, a former WACCS client. “They gave me the diapers, but they also gave me the education I needed to move forward with my life and support my children.”
After getting her family stabilized with help from WACCS, Sanchez worked for WACCS for two years, earning her certificate as a community health worker during that time. “I never thought I would be able to do what I did. I’m now a certified community health worker, I have completed victim assistance state training, I won an award from Women International and for the first time in my life, I am independent.”
How You Can Help
There are many ways to help WACCS with its mission to help women and children in our community, including donations of money and time. One of the easiest though is through the donation of diapers. Full packs are very much appreciated, but so are partial packs and even single diapers.
“People often have extras when their baby changes sizes or becomes potty-trained,” Russell says. “We would be very grateful for those diapers as well.”
Many businesses, organizations and churches also host diaper drives on a regular basis, asking their members to bring in diapers during a set period of time.
The Renown NICU team recently gathered 10,000 diapers for their patients, including 5,300 for WACCS. “Crystal Read, Supervisor of Clinical Nursing in the Renown NICU, recognizes how critical diapers are for families who can’t afford them, and so she led the drive,” Russell says. “The generosity of so many Renown folks is amazing, and the hard work of everyone who pulled this together is a gift to our community.”
If your organization, church or business would like to sponsor a diaper drive, please reach out to Russell at firstname.lastname@example.org. And anyone can drop off diapers (full or partial packs) at WACCS, 3905 Neil Road, Suite 2, Monday through Thursday from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. or Friday from 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. For more information about WACCS, visit www.waccs.org.
If you’d like to help women and children while also having a good time shopping, plan to attend WACCS’ annual fundraiser, True Colors: Old Treasures, New Futures, on Thursday, April 18, from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. at the Atlantis. This fun event sells estate jewelry, purses and scarves donated from the community — from costume to couture, fine to funky, pearls to pins. All money raised will make a significant change in the lives of local women and their children. Tickets are $20 each or two for $30, and include appetizers, a glass of champagne and a door prize entry. Drop off a package of diapers to WACCS to get a $10 voucher toward your jewelry purchase.