A Place to Turn for Those in Need

Sean Sullivan
Issue Date: 
March, 2020
Article Body: 

Looking for a place to turn for diapers, local families in need have found a friend in Eve Benda.
She is the founder and moral force behind The Diaper Project, an organization that began filling this niche need in 2015 out of Framingham’s First Parish Unitarian Church. Benda’s organization does community outreach to collect diapers for local families in need - an essential commodity, but one often overlooked by public assistance programs.
Participants in federal food assistance programs like SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) and WIC, a similar program serving women, infants and children, have traditionally been barred from using those funds to buy diapers. WIC has grouped this essential item in with alcohol and cigarettes, among its list of prohibited purchases.
As many as 3,000 Natick and Framingham families are said to struggle to afford diapers. The National Diaper Bank Network estimates that one in three families don’t maintain enough diapers to meet their babies’ needs.
A Place to Turn - a Natick food pantry - has become a distribution site for The Diaper Project, a convenient pickup point and source of promotion for the latter’s efforts. Located at 99 Hartfort Street, A Place to Turn is easily accessible to families in need from neighboring communities, and the organization’s reputation has helped spread the word about The Diaper Project’s work.
Donna Low is Assistant Director for A Place to Turn, and led us on a tour throughout the site’s impressive stores of food and other assorted essentials. Visiting one room after another lined with shelves of produce and canned goods, we arrived at a nook dedicated to diapers.
“There’s the name recognition for A Place to Turn,” said Benda, which is part of what makes that group such a worthy host for The Diaper Project’s distribution. “It’s become a very close partnership.”
To those uninitiated in the particulars of early-childhood parenting (like the writer of this article), the daily diaper count can be surprising and daunting.
Upon confessing my estimate of the daily diaper requirements for a miniature human being, I was instantly humbled. I was laughed at good-naturedly - rightly ridiculed - as the tale of my naiveté concerning the needs of a newborn was narrated to other staff members.
The accurate reading is at least seven diapers per day, a seismic sum compared to my ill-considered estimate. My guess was one, a number I realize in retrospect registers not even a rumble in the realms of common sense and biology. Such is the bliss - the obliviousness - of ignorance in such matters. I had never the occasion to contend with such maternal mathematics.
But these calculations are certainly a reality new parents must consider. And these are the natal numbers that are near (and not dear) to the hearts of our less-fortunate neighbors.
The National Diaper Bank Network estimates the dollars for those diapers can add up to as much as $80 per month for one baby, or nearly $1,000 per year. This non-discretionary number can take quite a toll on families that are already struggling to make ends meet.
They are the costs that so many must contend with in a country that seems to undervalue this vital phase in the early development of children and families.
In its dearth of publicly-provided, early-childhood support to parents, the US is an outlier among developed nations. Enter The Diaper Project and A Place to Turn - efforts and organizations that seek to provide relief in places where public policy leaves a void.
The Diaper Project encourages organizations of all kinds to initiate and host diaper drives to support the group. Diapers can also be ordered through the organization’s “wish list” on Amazon, and they’ll be shipped to The Diaper Project directly.
With the impending change of seasons, the organization will soon begin its “Spring for Diapers” drive, a campaign the group promotes during March and April. When National Diaper Need Awareness Week recurs each September, Benda’s group can collect as many as 20,000 diapers via increased community outreach.
“We collect diapers all year-round,” she said.