Portland-based program aims to fill the diaper gap

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PORTLAND — At around $900 a year, or about $80 a month for one child, the cost of diapers is a big hit for families also struggling to put food on the table and pay other essential costs.

The high cost also means that one in three U.S. mothers struggles with diaper need, according to the National Diaper Bank Network.

If parents can’t afford diapers, that often means they can’t put their child into child care, which limits their ability to work. In addition, adequate diapering is a health issue for babies. Children who sit in dirty diapers, for instance, are more likely to develop skin infections and urinary tract infections.

While there are government programs that can help families with the costs of housing and food, there’s no program that helps to cover the cost of diapers.

But in Portland, the Michael Klahr Jewish Family Services program has stepped up to help fill the diapering gap. This Sunday, Sept. 30, it will hold a stuff-a-truck event from 10 a.m.-noon, with a goal to collect 7,500 donated diapers.

The event at 1342 Congress St. will also include children’s activities, face painting, arts and crafts, and raffles.

Jewish Family Services also operates a food pantry and provides other social service resources. It’s open to families across the region, no matter their religious background.

Karli Efron, director of the program, said diaper need is defined as the lack of a sufficient supply of diapers to keep an infant or toddler clean, dry and healthy.

Diapers generally cost about $80 per month per child, which is an “especially high burden for families earning minimum wage,” according to David Scholder, the marketing and social media director at the Jewish Community Alliance of Southern Maine, which helps support the diaper bank.

Diaper costs are also particularly difficult for single-parent households, he said. And according to recent statistics, 44 percent of Maine households are headed by a single parent – most often a woman who is already struggling with a gender pay gap.

Scholder said that under Efron’s leadership, Jewish Family Services distributed more than 150,000 diapers to families in Southern Maine last year and is on track to distribute about 300,000 this year.

“Diaper need in Maine is real and it hits families of every background,” he added. “We’re proud of our support for families who are impacted. (And), while we continue to expand our diaper distribution efforts, we’re also focusing (on) legislative action as a means to ease the burden.”

This week is National Diaper Need Awareness Week, which aims to bring attention to the issue of diaper need and mobilize efforts to end it.

“An adequate supply of diapers is a basic need for all infants, (and is) as necessary for health and well-being as food and shelter,” Efron said, which is why Jewish Family Services not only distributes diapers from its own bank, but works with 14 other partner agencies to provide diapers.

Those partner organizations include the Falmouth Food Pantry, the Root Cellar in Portland, the South Portland Food Cupboard, MAS Community Health of Westbrook and the Gray Community Food Pantry, among others.

Efron said that parents experiencing diaper need generally run short by between 10 and 12 diapers per baby per week. “Our goal is to cover that diaper shortfall. We’ve also recently partnered with Jake’s Diapers out of Wisconsin to offer cloth diapers.”

Efron said Jewish Family Services established its food pantry nine years ago, and that’s when organizers first began hearing about the issue of diaper need.

“Over time, families shared their stories of missing work because they didn’t have enough diapers to send their child to day care, leaving soiled diapers on for extended periods, or trying to clean out a dirty diaper (for reuse),” she said.

“Many parents expressed feelings of shame and anxiety because they had to ask (family members or) neighbors for loans to purchase diapers,” Efron added. “Very few resources existed locally for parents experiencing diaper need, so we began to investigate the options.

“Eventually, we received enough financial donations to purchase diapers through the Amazon Subscribe & Save program, but it was still incredibly expensive and we were never able to keep enough diapers in stock.”

Two years ago, Jewish Family Services joined the National Diaper Bank Network, which allows the program to purchase diapers in bulk “at a significantly reduced cost,” Efron said. “We are now … the largest diaper bank in the state.”

“Of the many stresses that come with parenting, putting a diaper on your baby should not be one of them,” Efron said. “A diaper is a basic necessity (that) no baby should be without. The goal of (our) diaper bank is to provide immediate assistance, as well as look for long lasting, sustainable solutions.”

Kate Irish Collins can be reached at 710-2336 or kcollins@theforecaster.net. Follow Kate on Twitter: @KIrishCollins.

Diapers can cost around $900 a year per child, which means many local families struggle with diaper need. That’s where the local diaper bank run by Jewish Family Service in Portland can make a difference.

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