Over five or six years of volunteering with Ypsilanti's Hope Clinic
, Ann VanZomeren has often encountered clients who visit the clinic to find diapers, baby formula, and other infant care items.
"One [scenario] that sticks in my mind is when a grandmother or grandfather comes in and says, 'My daughter was arrested last night, and now I have to take care of these grandchildren,'" VanZomeren says. "They feel overwhelmed and they need supplies. Something along those lines happened fairly frequently before the pandemic."
Hope Clinic and another Ypsi nonprofit, SOS Community Services
, are going beyond giving away typical food pantry items to offer more diapers and other baby care items for clients like these.
SOS Community Services launches diaper pantry
SOS Development Director Barbara Cecil says the organization gave out more than 18,000 diapers in 2020 alone, and yet that only covers a fraction of what families need. According to the National Diaper Bank Network
(NDBN), one child requires about 2,600 diapers per year, and some families may have more than one child in diapers or pull-ups. This can add up to $1,000 or more per year. Furthermore, an NDBN survey found that in 2018, 57% of parents who relied on child care in Michigan missed work or school because they didn't have enough diapers to send with their child.
Cecil says missing work due to lack of diapers is a real problem. She notes that the families SOS serves with its housing program don't become homeless suddenly.
"It's a series of things that happen, a domino effect. So if we're making sure families have enough diapers and food, that frees up their scarce economic resources for other things, like paying for housing," Cecil says.
Though SOS has been providing some diapers and baby care items for years, the organization began to put a special emphasis on building a dedicated space for a diaper pantry in early 2020 and began putting out calls for volunteers to run it and stock it this year.
SOS Development Director Barbara Cecil at the SOS Community Services diaper pantry.
"We've had an enthusiastic response," Cecil says. "Lots of businesses are signing up for diaper drives and we've distributed more diapers this year than last."
Local businesses that have collected and delivered diapers so far include Charles Reinhart Company Realtors, Old National Bank, Express Employment Professionals, and A4 Management.
Cecil notes that the SOS food pantry also gives out baby formula, wipes, and other baby care items, but they are "really focused on diapers." That's because other resources like the Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) program provide help with items like formula and baby food.
"But for diapers, the solutions and workarounds are not very good," Cecil says. "Reusing a diaper is not a good solution, but it's a thing people do. Or using paper and a plastic shopping bag. You can imagine that doesn't work very well."
Cloth diapers, she says, are typically something that's easier for middle-class families who have access to a diaper cleaning service.
"And that's great for them, but many times, our clients don't have laundry in their apartment units," she says.
Cecil says SOS appreciates individuals, businesses, churches, and other organizations who want to hold diaper drives. Donors can also send a check earmarked for the diaper pantry.
Hope Clinic partners with Arbor Woman to provide more baby items
Hope Clinic has provided diapers, wipes, onesies, and other baby care items for many years. However, the nonprofit will be able to serve even more families due to a recent partnership with pregnancy counseling nonprofit Arbor Woman
and decision to move the baby care program under the umbrella of Hope's food program.
Emmeline Weinert, the food program manager for Hope, says that combining the baby care item program with the food pantry appointments was mostly about "visibility."
"The food program is a great, low-barrier way to get people in. There's a need, and there's not a lot of paperwork. They just show up and get what they want," Weinert says. "And then, when they're coming in for food and they see the baby care items, sometimes it turns on a light. They think of others they know who might need these services."
Hope Clinic food program manager Emmeline Weinert.
Weinert says that for the first few months of the COVID-19 pandemic, staff were handing out a few diapers at the front desk, but she thinks the new arrangement is "much better."
"When they come in for an appointment, we can chat with somebody, figure out their needs, and see if a certain brand of formula is good for them," she says. "People can come every two weeks, and they're leaving with a lot more [diapers], and they get all this clothing and other stuff as well."
VanZomeren describes Hope's basement storage as "bursting with diapers."
"We're able to give away three times more than what we normally gave before the pandemic, and that's great," Van Zomeren says.
Volunteers provide a listening ear along with the baby care items, she says.
"A lot of single mothers seem overwhelmed or sad. And then they just unload on us what is going on in their lives a little bit," she says.
Pre-pandemic, Hope also offered safe sleep classes and lactation support. Staff hope to get back to providing those services again soon.
Weinert notes that low-income families can tap resources like WIC, but because of the high cost of living in Washtenaw County or because of immigration status, "sometimes folks aren't eligible for those programs, even though they really need that support."
"That's where it's helpful for us to be the stopgap," Weinert says.
More information about Hope Clinic's free baby care item program is available here
Sarah Rigg is a freelance writer and editor in Ypsilanti Township and the project manager of On the Ground Ypsilanti. She joined Concentrate as a news writer in early 2017 and is an occasional contributor to other Issue Media Group publications. You may reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
All photos by Doug Coombe.