HappyBottoms, a nonprofit diaper bank for low-income families, is enlisting two area hospitals and seeking others to help get diapers to newborn babies with a new program called “Bundles of Joy.”
The program was launched last Wednesday, when Shawnee Mission Medical Center and Children’s Mercy Hospital picked up a total of about 13,000 size 1 diapers from the HappyBottoms warehouse in Overland Park. The hospitals were set to start distributing the diapers Saturday.
Since Jill Gaikowski founded the organization in 2010 in Kansas City, HappyBottoms has distributed nearly 2.3 million diapers, which are not covered by food stamps or the Women, Infants and Children program and can cost $1,000 a year per child. The bank distributes diapers to 29 partner agencies.
HappyBottoms is implementing its new hospital program using its oversupply of size 1 diapers — currently it has 250,000 to 300,000 of them, executive director Liz Sutherlin said.
The nonprofit organization is in talks with St. Luke’s Hospital and other area hospitals about having them take part in the program, said Teresa Winfield, HappyBottoms program manager.
“Diapers are a short-term need, but they’re such a critical need,” Winfield said.
Children sometimes return to a day care on a Monday wearing the same diapers they wore the previous Friday, she said.
“This is a dignity issue, too,” Winfield said. “Nobody should go without diapers. The other critical thing is that when mom wants to go back to work, she has to be able to supply diapers to the daycare. It’s not a frivolous item; it’s a diaper.”
Deanna Lutz, case manager for mother/baby services at Shawnee Mission Medical Center, said the hospital is participating in Bundles of Joy “because we see it as a service we provide for people who can walk away with a greatly needed service.”
The hospital delivered nearly 4,500 babies in 2013 and expects to deliver about 4,800 in 2014, Lutz said.
Carey Spain, assistant director-inpatient at Children’s Mercy, cited patients’ “constant need” for diapers in explaining why the hospital chose to participate in the program.
“A lot of families are struggling these days to make ends meet,” Spain said. “We’re asked on a daily basis where people can get help with things like this. We do a very small delivery service here, and it’s for high-risk infants in our fetal health center.”
Children’s Mercy delivered 115 babies in 2013 and projects that it will deliver 127 babies in all of 2014, she said. The hospital will distribute the diapers at its two Kansas City locations and its locations in Kansas City, Kan., and Johnson County.
HappyBottoms gives a form to the participating hospitals for patients to fill out to determine whether they qualify for the donated diapers based on income. Families that receive the diapers also get educational cards on stress management and diapering tips, available in English and Spanish.
Sutherlin has led the organization since January 2011, after she retired from a career in the pharmaceutical industry. She receives no salary and helps finance the organization.
“When I discovered that diapers weren’t covered by food stamps or WIC programs, I was appalled,” Sutherlin said. “I wanted to find something to get involved in. … We fill that gap in the safety net. Organizations do diaper drives, but often you don’t get the size diapers they need for the size babies they have.”
The organization is primarily funded by individuals, foundation grants, corporate donations and fund-raising events, Sutherlin said. It has a fundraiser scheduled for Nov. 13 at The Bean Hangar Event Space at The Roasterie in Kansas City. Its goal for the auction is to raise $100,000, she said.
The organization’s 2014 operating budget is about $700,000, Sutherlin said. It buys more than 90 percent of the diapers it distributes, and the remainder is donated.
“I know for me, I had no idea that low-income families who are often working — most of our families work — don’t have money to buy diapers for their babies,” Sutherlin said.
Cloth diapers aren’t a good option for these families, Sutherlin said, because 77 percent of the families they serve live at 100 percent of poverty level or below.
“They often don’t have a washing machine or soap,” she said. “You can’t sanitize the diapers. The only option is a disposable diaper.
“We might consider a cloth program, (but) if you take your child to day care, you can’t take them in cloth diapers,” she said. “The day care would have to organize and keep the dirty diapers. It’s a health problem.”
The organization always needs volunteers, Sutherlin said. About 40 volunteers a week repackage diapers at its other warehouse in Lenexa.
HappyBottoms distributes diapers in Wyandotte and Johnson Counties in Kansas, and in Jackson, Clay, Platte and Cass counties in Missouri.
In a study of 877 pregnant and parenting women, published in 2013 in Pediatrics, the official journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, nearly 30 percent of mothers reported a need for diapers.
“Although a majority of studies have examined family socioeconomic status as income and educational and employment status, emerging research suggests that indicators of material hardship are increasingly important to child health,” according to the study’s abstract.
“This study supports this premise with the suggestion that an adequate supply of diapers may prove a tangible way of reducing parenting stress, a critical factor influencing child health and development,” the abstract stated. “There is potential for pediatric providers to inquire about diaper need and refer families to a local diaper distribution service as (one) method to reduce parenting stress.”
Third annual Attitude of Gratitude: A Thanks Giving Event: Auction and happy hour, 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. Nov. 13 at the Roasterie Bean Hangar event space in Kansas City. Tickets are $40 in advance, $50 at the door.
More information: happybottoms.org/