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October 27, 2008

The Diaper Bank
Diapers Ahoy!

Let's switch from input to output, shall we? That's right, we're back to diapers. A recent article by Colleen Shaddox in Miller-McCune (a fascinating magazine that "harnesses current academic research with real-time reporting to address pressing social concerns") talks about New Haven resident Joanne Goldblum's work in creating The Diaper Bank for low-income families. It turns out that hygiene becomes optional when you don't have enough to eat. The consequences are depressing and shocking. They include emptying and reusing disposable diapers, using a communal towel for unaffordable toilet paper, going without clean clothes for a lack of detergent, and children with "Monday morning diaper rash" at Head Start day-care facilities due to weekends without enough diaper changes. Ah, America.

Having seen this phenomenon firsthand, Goldblum, a former social worker for the Yale Child Study, set out to do something about it. Though her efforts were variously ridiculed, belittled and dismissed at first, she has since managed to distribute 150,000 disposable diapers per month to needy Connecticut residents. This is no small accomplishment given how little interest there is in addressing this particular need - neither Food Stamps or WIC payments allow for the purchase of diapers (or laundry detergent for that matter). Cleanliness may be next to godliness, but according to the federal government, it's also not covered.

As for Philadelphia, there is no equivalent to the Diaper Bank. In fact, the only group that seems to accept diaper donations at all times (rather than during periodic diaper drives) is the Greater Philadelphia Coalition Against Hunger. Unfortunately, no warehouses full of diapers around here.

But there's another angle here - one that is more directly in the purview of this blog. The destitute and the working poor are a population for whom "sustainability" is as unaffordable as those diapers. Says Shaddox:

The most frequent criticism [of the Diaper bank] is that disposable diapers are bad for the environment. [Goldblum's] response to the criticism comes as a description of the lives of low-income families: Almost none own washing machines. Laundromats do not permit cloth diapers in their machines. Even if Laundromats were an option, Goldblum continues, it takes a lot of detergent to keep a child in cloth diapers. Do the critics know how much detergent costs and how few poor people can afford it?

Hmmm. Nothing like a little perspective to make you feel horribly bourgeois. This one little corner of the battle against the degradations of poverty highlights the huge gulf that exists between us Prius-buying, CFL-using, BPA-free Locavores and those living without means. How we handle this aspect of addressing climate change may be our greatest legacy. There's ample evidence that climate change will overwhelmingly hurt the poor in developing countries. If we don't provide adequate protections to our own poor populations, the same will be true here in the US.

Photo by drewesque used under CC license


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Blogger charliereece said...

Anybody know the public policy rationale for not allowing diaper purchases under Food Stamps/WIC? I'm having a hard time getting my head around that one.

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