Half of U.S. families struggle to pay for diapers; Bay-Arenac Diaper Bank can help

What happens when families can’t afford diapers? Babies and toddlers sit in soiled diapers too long, putting them at risk for painful skin irritations, rashes, and infections.

Thanks to the Bay-Arenac Diaper Bank, though, thousands of children are healthier and more comfortable.

Since forming in 2014, the Bay-Arenac Diaper Bank has provided 165,000 diapers to families in the two counties. In 2023 alone, Bay County families received 36,014 diapers. Arenac County families received 12,278 diapers.

The diaper bank exists thanks to volunteers, donations, and grants.

Gretchen Wagner, Early Childhood Education Director for the Bay-Arenac ISD, says the program formed to meet a need.

“There was a need in the community and there was no program that really supported families being able to get diapers,” says Wagner, who helps coordinate the distribution of diapers from two warehouses to about a dozen sites in the two counties.

Kathy RobertsThe Bay-Arenac Diaper Bank accepts donations of diapers and supplies as well as cash. The organization also is looking for fundraising ideas.“I think the group that started it really saw a need. They saw babies who were sitting in diapers too long and parents couldn’t afford to change their diapers more often. Our goal is to keep babies’ bottoms clean and healthy.”

Experts recommend caregivers change a child’s diaper every two or three hours. On Amazon, prices range from 27 cents to 42 cents per diaper. The cost adds up fast when babies need between eight and 12 diapers a day. Federal assistance programs such as WIC and SNAP do not cover diapers.

The National Diaper Bank Network estimates that half of U.S. families struggle to buy enough diapers.

Rich Van Tol, who runs several early childhood programs at the Bay-Arenac ISD, credits a strong coalition of people and agencies for keeping the local diaper bank running. The Bay County Health Department, United Way of Bay County, Mid Michigan Community Action, and YWCA of the Great Lakes Bay Region are among the agencies that play a role.

“It really is a remarkable collaboration of agencies and people working together to make it happen,” Van Tol says. “We try to keep babies healthy and developmentally on track by ensuring they have diapers.”

Families get the diapers in a couple different ways.

The Maternal Infant Health Program is a visiting service that sends registered nurses and social workers from the Bay County Health Department to the homes of pregnant women and infants with Medicaid. If families need diapers, the workers bring them during the visits.

Families also can visit one of a dozen Diaper Bank pantries in the two counties during open hours. The hours for each site are listed on Facebook and the website.

For the most part, families do not have to provide proof of income to get help. Wagner says volunteers give donated diapers to families who ask. “We trust people come when there’s a true need,” Wagner says.

The bank also has diapers, diaper cream, wipes, and potty-training pants purchased with state grant dollars. For those hygiene items, families must provide proof they meet income guidelines.

For older children, the Diaper Bank sometimes has potty-training kits from Molina that include a stuffed animal, potty-training pants, books, a sticker chart, and a potty-training seat.

“Our Medicaid health plans, whether they’re United HealthCare or Molina, they’ve been good about supporting us when we’ve requested dollars or resources. Again, it’s just really collaboration,” Van Tol says.
'We do it because we’re passionate about it and we want to see babies healthy. We know that diapers cost a lot of money and it’s a stressor for families.'
- Rich Van Tol, Bay-Arenac Diaper Bank
If you want to help, reach out to one of the agencies listed on the website. Van Tol and Wagner say there’s always need for donations of cash or diapers as well as suggestions for fundraisers.

“The grant dollars have helped us so we don’t have to fundraise as much right now, but we never know how long those dollars will be sustained,” Wagner says. “We are appreciative of the programs or organizations that provide us with donations and diapers.”

Van Tol adds he’s grateful for the churches that do diaper drives or businesses that run fundraisers for the program.

“The funding that comes in, we’re incredibly grateful for it, but we don’t get a lot of money,” Van Tol says.

“It’s one of those projects that just sits on the corner of the desk for many of us. We do it because we’re passionate about it and we want to see babies healthy. We know that diapers cost a lot of money and it’s a stressor for families. If we can help families in true need, that will help them and it will help the child.”
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Read more articles by Kathy Roberts.

Kathy Roberts, a graduate of Central Michigan University, moved to Bay City in 1987 to start a career in the newspaper industry. She was a reporter and editor at the Bay City Times for 15 years before leaving to work at the Bay Area Chamber of Commerce, Covenant HealthCare, and Ohno Design. In 2019, she returned to her storytelling roots as the Managing Editor of Route Bay City. When she’s not editing or writing stories, you can find her reading books, knitting, or visiting the bars of Bay County. You can reach Kathy at editor@RouteBayCity.com