Local nonprofit aims to provide diapers to low-income families

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Photograph provided by National Diaper Bank Network

There’s no getting around it: diapers are a necessity for newborns and infants. But they aren’t cheap, and the cost can be a burden to low-income families.

According to a 2013 article from Pediatrics, the official journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, an “adequate supply” of diapers costs on average $18 a week, or $936 per year. To put that in perspective, a single mother who works full time at the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour has an annual income of $15,080. That means 6 percent of her income will be spent on diapers alone. And government assistance programs like SNAP and WIC do not cover the purchase of non-food items like diapers.

In 2013, Pediatrics conducted a survey of 877 pregnant and parenting women. Thirty percent reported having “diaper need,” meaning they do not feel they have a sufficient supply of diapers to keep their baby clean, dry and healthy.

The Diaper Bank of the Carolinas, a 501(c)3 nonprofit founded in 2006 and headquartered in Mauldin, provides diapers to families in need both directly and through community partners including Pendleton Place, A Child’s Haven, Safe Harbor, SHARE and more. Board member Dusty Acosta estimates that the bank donates close to 4,000 diapers per month through these channels. She says the need in the state is so great that the bank has shipped diapers to cities as far away as Charleston.

The bank is a member of the National Diaper Bank Network (NDBN), which was formed in 2011 to spread awareness of diaper need and support the more than 315 community-based diaper banks across the United States. Diaper Bank of the Carolinas is the only NDBN member in South Carolina.

Meanwhile, many higher-income families have found new ways to save money on diapers. Some buy in bulk at warehouse retailers like Sam’s Club or Costco, but Acosta notes that many low-income families do not have the required memberships. Another route is to purchase diapers in bulk from online retailers like Amazon and set up recurring delivery. However, as the Washington Post notes, this alternative, aided by technology and the rise of the digital marketplace, requires a reliable credit card for continual billing, a stable mailing address, the ability to receive packages at home and access to either a smartphone or computer and the internet. Many low-income families lack these resources, and therefore these cost-cutting deals are unavailable to them.

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Cloth diapers have been proposed as a viable solution to diaper need because they’re reusable, but they have disadvantages as well. Lower-income families may not have immediate access to a washer and dryer within their home, and those household appliances are necessary to ensure there is a constant availability of a clean cloth diaper supply. But the most significant drawback is that most day care centers require parents to provide a supply of disposable diapers and will not accept cloth diapers. “[Parents] can’t take a child to day care if they don’t have a supply of [disposable] diapers to bring,” said Acosta. And if a parent doesn’t have access to child care, he or she will likely have to miss work, which introduces a new set of predicaments.

But diaper need doesn’t just impact families economically. It can also be detrimental to a child’s health and development.

In the aforementioned Pediatrics survey, 8 percent of parents said they “stretch the diapers they have when their supply is running short.” That can increase the risk of UTIs and diaper rashes, leading to doctor and emergency room visits — and their associated costs. That can take an emotional toll on parents. When a child has a diaper rash, for example, that child is “uncomfortable. They don’t sleep enough. They’re unhappy. It makes the parents feel inadequate and resentful of their situation,” Acosta explained.

Parents who experience poverty in terms of both “income and material” resources are more likely to have stress and mental health problems, according to Pediatrics, and “children whose parents manifest high levels of stress or depression are at greater risk of social, emotional and behavioral problems.”

“[Diaper need] is really a health issue and a sociological issue,” said Acosta. “We are the wealthiest country in the world, and we need to at least take care of our babies.”

Earlier this year, the White House introduced an initiative to try to limit the so-called “diaper divide” through partnerships between online retailers, diaper manufacturers and nonprofits. Online retailer Jet partnered with manufacturer First Quality to create the Cuties Economy Plus Pack. By removing graphics from packaging and adding more diapers in each box, the diapers can be produced in “the most cost-effective way possible” while retaining quality. Through Jet, Cuties Economy Plus Packs are available to individual shoppers at a cost of $0.17 per diaper, compared to the average cost of $0.30 to $0.50. Nonprofit organizations that assist needy families can be accepted into Jet’s Community Diaper Program and will pay $0.13 per diaper.

For more information, visit diaperbankofcarolinas.org.


September is National Diaper Bank Awareness Month, and Sept. 26–Oct. 2 is Diaper Need Awareness Week. The following Upstate locations are providing diaper collection areas throughout the month:

  • Sports Club Fitness and Wellness Centers in Greenville, Five Forks and Simpsonville
  • Holy Cross Episcopal Church, Simpsonville
  • Reedy River Missionary Baptist Church, Greenville
  • Maple Creek Baptist Church, Greer
  • Rock Hill Baptist Church No.1, Greenville
  • Springfield Baptist Church, Greenville
  • St. Mark United Methodist Church, Taylors
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