GALVESTON — Until recently, it hadn’t occurred to Kathy Modzelewski that low-income parents sometimes missed worked, school or job training because they couldn’t afford diapers for their children.
Day care centers — even free or subsidized ones — will turn away children if parents can’t provide a day’s supply of disposable diapers. Loss of work and a constantly crying, uncomfortable baby could lead to tensions, less nurturing and possible abuse. And mothers sometimes suffer from a phenomenon called diaper stress.
“I had no idea there was anything like diaper stress or diaper need,” Modzelewski said.
Babies born into poor or low-income families can spend a day or longer in the same diaper, leading to potential health risks, including severe rash and urinary tract infections, experts said.
Without an adequate diaper supply, parents can’t go to work and babies can’t participate in early childhood education, which jeopardizes their chances to develop cognitive abilities and language skills, according to the National Diaper Bank Network.
‘They do appreciate it’
In August, Modzelewski, an island volunteer, learned all about diaper stress while helping out at the Incredible Years program, a partnership between Galveston Sustainable Communities Alliance and the Family Service Center.
In the fall and spring, the Incredible Years program participates in Galveston Independent School District classes for teenage parents or those who are expecting. The Incredible Years program is part of an initiative to improve parenting skills, which enhances early childhood experiences.
Modzelewski, through the alliance and Incredible Years, offered diapers in gift bags as incentive for parents to attend and complete the program, which also offers parenting classes through community groups on the island. Through such programs, Galveston Sustainable Communities Alliance has given out about 5,000 diapers to parents. Modzelewski remembers how grateful the young participants were to receive diapers, which can put pressure on any budget.
“Some were teary-eyed ... they do appreciate it so much,” she said.
Making a change
Modzelewski began to research and understand how difficult it was for low-income parents to pay for diapers for their babies. Depending on age, babies need eight to 12 diapers a day at an average monthly cost of $100.
She was also amazed to learn that although low-income families rely on government support for food, housing and employment assistance, diapers aren’t an allowable expense for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program — food stamps — or Women, Infants and Children programs. Diapers are classified with cigarettes, alcohol and pet food as purchases not allowed with food stamps.
“You can’t get diapers with food stamps, but candy qualifies,” Modzelewski said.
All the research ultimately led Modzelewski to launch what will be Galveston’s first official diaper bank, which works much like a food bank. The bank will collect, store and distribute diapers to families in need.
Initially, the diaper bank will work under the Galveston Sustainable Communities Alliance. Modzelewski knew it would be a strain on the alliance’s budget to attempt to continue buying all the diapers, so she decided to ask for the public’s help and support.
Modzelewski said she hopes the bank will soon also provide diapers to be distributed through other organizations, including, Galveston Urban Ministries, which, among various programs, provides job training; and St. Vincent’s House, a nonprofit social service agency on the island. And she hopes the diaper bank ultimately will become self-sustaining.
A strong start
To help give Galveston’s new diaper bank a strong start, the alliance has enlisted The Junior League of Galveston County to help collect diapers at drop-off points across the county in that organization’s Pampers, Push-ups, Pajamas donation drive.
Hayley Hardcastle, membership vice president of the Junior League of Galveston County, said the diaper bank drive fits well with the group’s mission to develop potential for women. Hardcastle owns successful island business HH Design House, and her husband works at the University of Texas Medical Branch. They can afford diapers. But as parents of a 2-year-old daughter, they know buying them can be expensive. Hardcastle must have a supply of diapers at home and provide one for her daughter’s day school.
“It adds up quickly,” Hardcastle said.
Cloth diaper services also are expensive, Hardcastle said. And cloth diapers aren’t accepted at the vast majority of day care centers. For sanitary reasons, coin-operated laundromats often don’t allow customers to wash cloth diapers, according to the National Diaper Bank Network.
Nationally and locally, the need for baby diapers is great.
In the United States, 22 percent of all children under age 5 are living in poverty; 34 percent of families surveyed had cut back on basics such as food, utilities or child care in order to purchase diapers for their child, according to the National Diaper Bank Network.
About 3,500 children age 6 and younger were living in Galveston during the 2010 Census. The Census doesn’t report poverty numbers for small age subgroups, but 39 percent of the total population of children younger than 18 lived in families receiving public assistant. If the percentage holds true for subgroups, about 1,360 preschoolers were living in families poor enough to receive assistance.
‘High levels of stress’
In July, Megan Smith, assistant professor of psychiatry at the Yale School of Medicine, along with other authors, released a study about the effects the inability to afford diapers had on families.
“A parent’s mental health affects a child’s development,” Smith told Yale News. “High levels of stress and depression in a parent can be associated with low achievement in school and mental health problems that can follow a child for a lifetime.”
Erica Adams, executive director of the Galveston Sustainable Communities Alliance, said there’s a strong connection between early childhood development and the ability for families to provide diapers for their babies.
From birth to age 3, children learn how to crawl, how to walk, what different words mean and how to interact with the world, Adams said. While diapers seem like a small thing, they are a necessity for children to access a broad range of learning opportunities, Adams said.
“Diapers are really a little thing that can affect the big things in a child’s life,” Adams said. “Having diaper security allows a mom to more fully and emotionally bond with their child, and a healthy child who has a clean diaper is more open and receptive to learning.”
Contact reporter Laura Elder at 409-683-5248 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
At a glance
The diaper bank seeks diapers for infants to toddlers — all age ranges.
Contact Kathy Modzelewski at email@example.com to donate to or learn more about the diaper bank.
Junior League Drive
The Junior League of Galveston County’s Pampers, Push-ups, Pajamas donation drive, which ends May 2, hopes to collect diapers, baby wipes, women’s gently used/new pajamas, bras and new underwear and men’s gently used/new pajamas and new underwear. Visit www.jlgalveston.org for information.
If you’d like a collection box at your place of business or organization, contact Sarah Hampton Cambas, provisional member of the Junior League at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Drop-off locations for Pampers,
Push-Ups and PJ’s Donation Drive
Galveston County Daily News, 8522 Teichman Road
PattyCakes Bakery, 704 14th St.
HH Design House, 404 25th St.
O’Connell High School (contact 409-765-5534 for donation drop off).
Ball High School/Ball Prepatory School, (contact 409-766-5700).
Jack Brown American National Insurance Agency, 3032 Marina Bay Drive, Ste. 100, League City
Uniplex Office Suites, 1414 S. Friendswood Drive, Ste. 306, Building B, Friendswood
National Reliable Lending, 211 E. Parkwood Ave., Ste. 202, Friendswood
University of Texas Medical Branch Health, Ear, Nose & Throat Consultants and the Center for Audiology & Speech Pathology, 1600 W. League City Parkway, Ste. D, League City
Family Medicine, 2401 W. FM 646, Ste. C, Dickinson
Galveston Bay Foundation, 17330 state Highway 3, Webster