During its first year, someone robbed the Diaper Bank of North Carolina. The thief made off with 16,000 diapers, and Diaper Bank Executive Director Michelle Old put out a call for donations to help the young nonprofit bounce back from the sizable loss.
She wasn’t expecting the response she got, though: replacements (and then some) poured in, shipped from all over. UPS dedicated entire trucks to diaper delivery. At the time, Old recalls, the Diaper Bank’s address was that of her home, so there were days packages were stacked so deep she couldn’t get in the door.
“In a week’s time, 130,000 diapers were sent to us,” she said. “It was great.”
It’s easy to laugh about now – the baffled delivery drivers, the thousands of diapers sitting on Old’s doorstep – but diapers are serious business. These costly essentials can be an invisible shortage not only for impoverished families, but also for the working poor, Old said. One in three families experience this, a Diaper Bank study found, and over 60 percent of these families are working families with parents who hold between one and three jobs. Some military families, even, face diaper need: one spouse is deployed, Old explained, while the other is home in the US, unable to afford these child-care basics.
The Diaper Bank’s initial mission was simple: get diapers to organizations that work with these families. Over its three years, though, it has evolved. Today, infants are only one group that benefits from the Diaper Bank’s efforts.
“We’re really working on switching our mission from distributing diapers to distributing dignity,” Old said.
Stories started making their way to the Diaper Bank about teenage girls who were missing school because they didn’t have feminine hygiene products. If Old’s organization could fill this basic need for these girls, they wouldn’t be worried about having an accident at school and could go back to class. So now the Diaper Bank provides feminine hygiene products to Durham County Schools. Once they establish the level of need or the sustainability of this initiative, Old said, they will implement it elsewhere in North Carolina.
“We never even considered that now they’re asking for girls’ underwear,” Old said. It makes sense: a girl who has an accident at school will need something to change into. “We’re still trying to figure out the ins and outs of these programs that we started,” she said. The organization also provides adult incontinence products.
One thing the Diaper Bank doesn’t do is serve families directly. Rather, it gives diapers to organizations that serve areas in need. If a family is struggling to afford diapers, Old explained, they’re struggling in other ways too. She wants them connected with programs that can help in multiple ways, and diapers can be a gateway. One clinic, for example, is having better luck immunizing kids now that it offers diapers; families are more likely to show up. And Healthy Families Durham, an organization that works to deter and prevent child abuse, is seeing better return visit rates with its families now that its workers appear with diapers in hand, Old said.
All those diapers don’t come cheap, though.
“A lot of times nonprofits, especially new nonprofits, are looking for that fundraiser that can help them fill in the gap,” Old explained. Fortunately, she and a business partner had started the Kidcycle consignment sale in 2010. In 2013, Old’s youngest child’s medical condition required him to go through 15 to 20 diapers daily, which inspired her to start the Diaper Bank. She and her business partner then donated Kidcycle to the Diaper Bank, and now the twice-annual sale is the nonprofit’s primary fundraiser.
Every year, The Diaper Bank continues to expand. There are three branches statewide, with Durham being the hub, and soon the nonprofit is expanding into Wake County. It could use donations, sure, but also volunteers: all the diapers that come in are repackaged, Old explained, and the organization takes volunteers of all ages.
“Our goal was 50,000 diapers the first year – our first year we did 209,000,” Old explains. “Our second year we did over half a million, and we’re on target to do over two million diapers statewide this year.”
Diaper Bank of North Carolina
1311 E. Club Blvd.
Durham, NC 27704
Contact: Michelle Old, 919-886-8085
Description: We distribute dignity to families in need by providing diapers, wipes, adult incontinence products and feminine hygiene products.
Donations needed: Pull-Ups, wipes, girls underwear in all sizes.
Volunteers needed: We repackage all our supplies before they are distributed out into the community. All ages can help us wrap diapers.
$10 would buy: Two weeks’ worth of diapers for a child in need.
$20 would buy: A month’s worth of diapers for a child.
$50 would buy: Feminine hygiene products for five public schools for a month.