Struggling parents have to make decisions that are unimaginable to others—for instance, whether to reuse diapers, allow their child to remain in a soiled diaper for hours, or resort to using tea towels as nappies.
Susan Speese (aka the “diaper lady”) is on a mission—to provide diapers to families so they don’t have to make that choice. Speese is the founder and president of the Healthy Steps Diaper Bank, which provides diapers to 25 partnering organizations in Dauphin, Cumberland and Perry counties.
“The majority of people believe women and babies are serviced through WIC and food stamps, but none of those programs provide diapers,” said Speese, explaining the situation recently while surrounded by piles of diaper boxes in a chilly back corner of Mission Central’s Mechanicsburg warehouse.
Speese formed the organization five years ago after reading an article about the National Diaper Bank Network. As a volunteer at Morning Star Pregnancy Services, she had seen the need firsthand and thought to herself, “Someone has to do something about this.”
Semi- retired at the time, she had found her next calling.
“I realized there still was stuff for me to do out there,” she said.
“Out there” includes the corner of N. 3rd and Kelker streets in Harrisburg, where she works with the Neighborhood Center of the United Methodist Church.
“If we didn’t have the diaper bank, we wouldn’t be able to give out diapers,” said Kyla Harvey, the Neighborhood Center’s executive director.
Stephanie Evans, the center’s receptionist and assistant, explained that free diapers can make a huge difference to a person who is struggling financially.
“If a woman had $8 and used every dime she had to buy diapers, and we can provide diapers, she can keep that $8 for other things that might come up,” Evans said.
In addition, day cares require children to come with a full complement of diapers. If parents don’t have diapers, they don’t have day care, and most centers don’t allow cloth diapers.
Family Promise of the Capital Region, which helps move families out of homelessness, is another organization that receives diapers from Healthy Steps.
“Trying to save every penny they have, having a resource for diapers is huge,” said Executive Director Lissette Gonzalez.
Rebecca Gouse recently sat on the porch of the Lemoyne Family Promise Day Center. She said that she and her 1-year-old daughter benefit from the diaper bank.
“When you don’t have any income, it’s big,” she said. “It’s a huge load off my mind to be able to have diapers. I don’t know how I would get diapers.”
Economics is one factor at play. The other is less obvious.
“It boosts their morale,” Gonzalez said. “They feel more confident in their parenting.”
Speese said also stressed that point.
“Moms are suffering because they can’t provide, can’t bond over diaper changing because they are stressed,” she said.
The funds and diapers that assist these families come from grants and personal donations. People and organizations hold diaper drives. Schools and businesses hold dress-down days, with a pack of diapers being the price of participation. Speese said that one mother held a diaper drive for her 2-year-old’s birthday party, opting for diaper donations rather than gifts.
Speese said that she would like to see legislation passed that would assist families with diapers. In California, a recent bill allows a $50 diaper stipend for low-income working parents. Pennsylvania is considering House Bill 1820, presently in the Children and Youth Committee, which would offer a tax break to businesses donating to diaper need organizations.
To date, the diaper bank has distributed about 500,000 diapers. Yet, said Speese, there’s still much work to be done.
“It’s sad, in our day and age, that people have to deal with this,” she said.
For more information on the Healthy Steps Diaper Bank, visit www.healthystepsdiaperbank.com.