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Alesha Bridgewater holds 15-month old daughter Alayna, who is still in diapers. Bridgewater is a young mother who has struggled to pay for disposable diapers for Alayna and her son, Riley, 3, who no longer needs diapers.

Helping moms get diapers

Agencies, church groups can assist in providing items


Alesha Bridgewater knows about struggling to pay for diapers. At 23, the New Haven resident has two children, a 1-year-old daughter and a 3-year-old son. Until recently, both were in diapers.

“We struggle with that in my family all the time,” she says of affording the items.

“Honestly, it’s hard. I work here 32 hours a week, and I do Mary Kay beauty cosmetics to help me afford things. But I really don’t get to spend much on myself. I just get groceries and diapers every week.”

An administrative assistant at Associated Churches of Fort Wayne and Allen County, Bridgewater has contact with lots of other young parents like herself when they inquire about getting free diapers from the organization’s A Baby’s Closet.

The inability by some families to afford diapers is a problem area organizations are starting to see on a regular basis.

Last summer, a study in the medical journal Pediatrics identified diaper need among the poor as a growing health and psychological risk for babies and their mothers.

Elaine Williamson, program coordinator, says A Baby’s Closet is of several programs in Fort Wayne that allow participants to earn coupons and redeem them for baby needs by meeting prenatal and postnatal, immunization and other health appointments and attending parenting classes.

While car seats, strollers, cribs and clothes are all available, disposable diapers are the program’s “most sought-after item,” Williamson says.

She says that’s because diapers can’t be paid for through food stamps or vouchers from the Women’s, Infants and Children program, also called WIC.

And babies go through diapers quickly – at a rate of eight to 10 a day for a newborn. It is estimated that disposable diapers can cost up to $100 a month for one baby.

“That’s why diapers are such a hot commodity,” she says. “You can’t keep your baby in a dirty diaper.”

A Hope Center and the Women’s Care Center, each with three sites in Fort Wayne, offer similar programs. But none can meet all the diaper needs of an infant, their managers say.

At Women’s Care, the program is called The Crib Club, says Anne Koehl, director. Participants are limited to three dozen diapers a week.

“With a newborn, three dozen won’t get you very far, but that (gets less) as the child gets older,” she says.

If a baby’s father attends classes with the mother, they each get double the coupons, she adds.

At A Hope Center, diapers and baby wipes – also not food-stamp or WIC eligible – were given out nearly 4,000 times last year, says Bev Crozier, office manager.

“But there’s such a need for diapers, we limit ours to two dozen a week per child so that we can help more people,” she says. “I think we’re meeting our clients’ needs. We haven’t had to turn anyone (coming for diapers) away.”

Community Harvest Food Bank supplies some diapers to referred clients of its Community Cupboard program, says Sara Koerner, spokeswoman.

Depending on the amount of donations received, the food bank may distribute some diapers to member food programs.

Also, a weekly summertime diaper giveaway sponsored by Allen County Right to Life will take place again this year, says Gina Wyatt, coordinator.

She says the only requirement is that the child who will use the diapers be brought to the event.

The giveaways take place July 15 and Aug. 19 at St. Joseph Catholic Church, 2213 Brooklyn Ave., and July 31 and Aug. 28 at St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, 1126 Barr St.

On July 26 and Aug. 23, diapers will be available at St. Patrick Catholic Church, 2120 Harrison St. Hours are 9:30 to 11 a.m. on all dates at all locations.

And the Franciscan Center’s Medicine Cabinet program can help parents get by in a pinch. The program at 1015 E. Maple Grove Ave. is open 9 to 11 a.m. Wednesdays and does not have income or other qualifications.

But, says Tony Ley, director, participants are limited to one monthly visit and sometimes not all sizes are available.

“Right now, we’re giving out 10 at a time,” he says. “We’re working on making it 20 at a time, and I think we’ll be able to do that.

“Diapers are brutally expensive,” he says. “Sometimes, at the end of the month, or whatever, the dollars just aren’t there, and we can buy you a little time.”

Area program managers say reusable cloth diapers aren’t much of an option for parents.

“It’s very difficult to buy cloth diapers. You usually can’t find them,” Williamson says.

Diaper services are usually cost-prohibitive for low-income parents, she says, and many care providers won’t accept children wearing cloth diapers, even temporarily.

Also, some low-income parents live where washing machines, especially those with hot water needed for sanitizing, aren’t readily available, Williamson adds.

“You actually want them using disposable diapers because it’s healthier and more sanitary for the baby. You might think it’s a frivolous thing, but it’s not.”

Buying disposable diapers can cost more for low-income parents because many don’t have enough cash on hand to buy diapers in bulk at a cheaper cost per diaper, Koehl says. So, they resort to buying smaller packages at a higher per-diaper price.

Or, if they don’t have access to transportation, they buy diapers at a neighborhood convenience store, where the price can be even higher, according to Williamson.

All three coupon programs get their diapers through fundraisers, diaper drives at schools and churches and individual donations.

The Christ Child Society, a Catholic service organization, provides many of the diapers for the Women’s Care Center, while A Baby’s Closet, where one coupon gets 12 diapers but clients can redeem four or five at a time, has periodic baby shower events.

None of the programs has income requirements for eligibility. Koehl says in the last two years, she’s noticed more working parents using Women’s Care to stretch budgets.

Bridgewater says she scouts for sales and coupons but doesn’t always use the latter if they’re for a faraway store because gas is just too pricey. “Sometimes it’s not worth driving, if it’s far away,” she says.

She recently got what she considers “a great deal” – $19.25 for 80 Huggies. She buys the brand because her daughter is allergic to materials in some of the less costly diapers and gets a rash.

“I get a pack maybe on Sunday, and I have to get a new pack by Friday or Saturday,” she says. “You can’t really (cut back), and I don’t let her sit in a wet diaper.”