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Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Diapers for Everyone in 2010!

Can't start the new year fresh without a new project, right?

Some (many?) of you might be familiar with the young homeless family that I was helping last year. I'm assuming that most of you know part or all of the story but if not, the link is here. Blogging about K's story is how I came in contact with a lot of you in the first place. ;-)

Meeting K (the homeless mother and domestic abuse survivor) and her young children (ages 9, 7 and three months) was a life-changing, eye-opening happy/sad experience. I learned first-hand about the dangers, fears and daily life of a family living on the edge of society in my beloved adopted hometown: San Francisco.

Right after I met K, a young mother named Lisa wrote to me and asked how she could help. She met me at a run-down hotel in the Tenderloin, 2 kids in tow (ages 3 and 1), and brought diapers, bags of clothes and toiletries and nursing supplies for this family. I can't tell you enough how happy and needed these donated supplies were to K. Especially the diapers.

I came to know Lisa and also to help her when I could with her budding effort called Help a Mother Out (HAMO) which she had just started with a friend. Through constant effort, Lisa and HAMO have collected over 130,000 diapers for shelters, crisis nurseries in the SF Bay Area. The Bay Area does not have a diaper bank and there is no other organized way of helping needy families get diapers for their babies.

Why all the explanation?

When I was working with K and the kids over the course of several months, I learned a lot. Let me give you an example.

When I first met K, as a homeless mother, she was not on any sort of assistance at all. She fled an abusive, dangerous husband with all the cash she could gather and found a cheap hotel in the Tenderloin. That hotel was $60 a night. The day I met her was her last day in the hotel unless she could come up with more money (which many of you were kind enough to help with). The following month after I met her, she started to receive welfare. These are real numbers below. I became very familiar with them over the course of months last year.

  • $583 a month for a family of four for housing (that means finding housing for $145 a week in SF. Try to imagine what kind of housing that will get you.)
  • $380 a month in food stamps for a family of four ($95 a week/$23.75 per person, per week. That doesn't go far, trust me.)
  • The part that gets left out... diapers. If you're on food stamps, it doesn't provide for diapers, just food. So if you're already struggling, you don't have any extra money for diapers.
  • Also, diapers are expensive, especially in San Francisco where you don't have access to Target, Costco and big box stores or online. Small corner groceries, especially in the Tenderloin, means more expensive diapers than moms can purchase in other neighborhoods.
I'm using K's situation as an example because it's really how things were. I saw it with my own eyes. This kind of situation is replicated in many families just in the SF Bay Area alone.

Why diapers?

It doesn't take a lot of imagination to realize that a baby in dirty diapers gets sick more. Goes to the emergency room more. Means more stress and hardship for a child and a mother living under already incredibly stressful circumstances. Many parents can't afford diapers and food, so they get food. They try to wash out disposable diapers and reuse them. (BTW, laundromats have various rules about washing cloth diapers, and many do not allow it, in case you were wondering. And having enough cloth diapers on hand is obviously another expense most families can't afford either.) So if you're low income or homeless, odds are you don't have a washer and dryer for cloth diapers.

These kids get sick and that affects all of us. (I know in K's instance, she must have taken the baby to the emergency room at least six times.)


So now to the project at hand. What I'm working on with Lisa:

The Mother's Day Holiday Playdate (sometime in May 2010). So even though this may not sound like a lot here, our success at this event will dictate the direction HAMO can play in helping families in a more established and meaningful way.
  • HAMO’s Mother's Day Playdate will be held in the Bay Area (most likely SF).
  • The goals of the event are:
    • to physically collect diapers and
    • to raise awareness of the need for diapers, why families may not have access to them, and the health and social repercussions of going without diapers, and
    • HAMO online gives people easy ways to help. (HAMO also has diaper drive kits that can be utilized in any city where someone wants to create their own event.)
  • The event will be a 2-3 hour playdate at a location TBD.
    • We hope to have a major sponsor to underwrite the cost of the facility rental (unless we can get a place to donate a few hours for the cause). We're working on it. But more than one sponsor is definitely encouraged and welcome.
    • Guests are asked to bring a pack of diapers in lieu of the normal per child admission price.
  • Attendance goal of 100 families.
    • Invitation list will include bloggers, entertainment professionals, and social media and tech-savvy locals as well as local mom and dad influencers.
What we need:

  • A place to hold the event (SF would be ideal but we're open).
  • Catering or help with getting food and beverages
  • Donated shwag for gift bags
  • Media coverage – local print, web, radio, television
  • Other nice to haves:
    • Door prizes
    • Live entertainment – musician preferred.
    • Funds or talent donations to cover additional entertainment (ie: crafts, body glimmer art, balloon animals)
So that's the purpose of this post (if you've read this far, thank you!).

If you can and want to help in some way, you can do one or a few of these things.

  • You can go online and purchase a pack of diapers on Amazon through HAMO's donation link that will be sent directly to one of the shelters or nurseries in the Bay Area. Now, or now and again in May.
  • You can come to the event in May and bring your kid (if you have one), a package of diapers and meet us.
  • If you have kids and know other parents that can help, please pass this on to them. Schools, nurseries, day care, churches, synagogues, other organizations... all around us are people who can help if they knew about it.
  • If you have access to catering or food to provide...
  • If you know people in the media or can help us network and get more exposure...twitter, facebook, blogs.
  • If you would like to be involved in planning the event, let me know! We would like to have a host committee because Lisa and I can't do this all by ourselves.
Any or all will be most appreciated. I'm just getting started on this but you can't plan too early, right?

The Big Picture.

The Big Picture is that this event will kick off a month of awareness and diaper donations online through HAMO. Lisa has picked May since it's the month of Mother's Day. I have signed up to help her make this event as successful as I can. I'll be working on other projects with Lisa, mostly photographic, that will illustrate what we're doing, but this event is the most important part of the puzzle right now as far as the future direction of HAMO is concerned.

I am open to any sort of suggestion, advice, connections and help. Please contact me about any questions you might have, too (tangobaby2 AT gmail.com). Whatever it is you can do, and for some, a donation isn't in the cards (I can totally understand). But even passing this post along to others you know creates the snowball I'm looking for. I've experienced the snowball effect before and because of that, I know it can happen again.

I'm not a mother. I've never had kids. But even I know how a little something like a clean diaper can make a child's life better.

I look forward to hearing from you!


ps.: Facts to keep in mind

  • In the San Francisco Bay Area, there are over 60,000 children under the age of five who are living under the poverty level.
  • The cost of a healthy change of diapers for one child is about $100 a month.
  • Food stamps and WIC program do not cover the cost of diapers
  • In low-income and homeless families, babies often spend the entire day or longer in a single diaper. Inadequate diaper changing leads to numerous health risks and problems.
pss.: If you live outside of the San Francisco Bay Area, you can do your own diaper drive. There's info on HAMO's website on how to get started!

Charming naked vintage baby photo found on this blog.


Adan December 29, 2009 at 4:40 PM  

twittered bout this. looking to organize something here in CLE.

tangobaby December 29, 2009 at 4:43 PM  

I was thinking you'd be ideal for rolling this out in your city. I have links for you!!! Will email you.


RNSANE December 29, 2009 at 4:50 PM  

Julie, this is such a worthy project and I am willing to help if I can. I am so frustrated since the mayor cut my job ten months ago, eliminating my forensic nursing position of 21 years at the child sexual abuse agency. My blog today talked about homelessness and I was horrified to realize that San Francisco has the highest rate of
homelessness in the U. S. - 1 out of 100 persons in the city is homeless. The issue now is that whole famiies are homeless and that means children.

When I worked at CASARC, we dealt with so many children who were molested by mother's boyfriends, or molested in shelters because single mom's were so desperate for some sort of housing for their families. Shelters are overpopulated and, with budgets being cut, are greatly in need of things like diapers, children's clothing, etc. What used to distress me so much in interviewing children who had been molested is that they would often recant when they saw the disruption their telling of the abuse dealt to the family.

Life is so strange, at times, but we must try to help where we can, when we can.

Good for you for all your efforts in this regard.

tangobaby December 29, 2009 at 4:51 PM  

RNSANE, you're on! I think you could be a great help. I will be in touch! And thank you!

tangobaby December 29, 2009 at 4:58 PM  

Oh RNSANE, another part of the problem here for some is that if you're a domestic violence victim, you can't even stay at a regular shelter due to safety issues. And if you have more than one child (as in the case with K) the domestic violence shelters often don't have room for you and your kids... that was an agonizing piece of the story. Terrible.

RNSANE December 29, 2009 at 6:13 PM  

I went back and read your original post. Yes, I am so familiar with those issues. Often, when I was a sexual assault nurse examiner at the SF Rape Treatment Center, we would get mother and children into La Casa but it would be so difficult for all, arranging therapy at our agency, trying to get support services for the family - the children would have to leave their schools where all their friends were and it was all so traumatic for them. The family would have nothing, no money, no clothing, none of their cherished belongings - it is easy to understand why women end up recanting and moving back in with their abusers. I have known a couple of women who were killed, however, in front of their children. We cannot make people leave or even tell them they should. We can just offer them options and let them know that we are available to them, whatever they decide, pointing out, of course, the risks they take.

Keli December 29, 2009 at 6:49 PM  

Julie, I have followed your blog for many months and I posted a blog entry on my blog with a link to your blog and HAMO about this project and the need for diapers. Here is a link to my blog.

I live 3,000 miles away. My few blog followers are from across the U.S., so maybe this will get action started in some other cities too.

Just Jules December 29, 2009 at 8:13 PM  


Louis Duke Photography December 29, 2009 at 10:20 PM  

Wow. I am very impressed. This is amazing. I'm gonna try to help by email spamming this post around to a few contacts. Dad has some religous people out your way who might be interested. We will see, we will see.

I'm Katie. December 29, 2009 at 10:56 PM  

This is just the kind of thing I needed for 2010. I have all kinds of family out in SF and all kinds of friends here in UT, so let's see how many people I can wake up to this...

Thank you for the break down. It's much more real when a person can see the black and white.

Anna, The Lemon Lady December 29, 2009 at 11:46 PM  

Have kept you in my thoughts all year. I'm working on The Lemon Lady project in Concord and I see firsthand the desparity at food pantries and shelters.

Diapers are not a heavily advertised "need" at shelters. Just as I've found that fruit is not very well-known. With public awareness anything is possible.

I'll keep brainstorming about your project too. Have you done any press releases to local media?

Maybe CBS. They seem to be everywhere around the Bay Area, and ABC7 likes these stories.

Best to you and K and family.
Anna Chan, The Lemon Lady

melissashook December 30, 2009 at 4:59 AM  

Hey, Tangobaby...
way to go....
what a good use of your feelings..and experience...

LT December 30, 2009 at 8:27 AM  

Julie, this is AMAZING. You are amazing. I'm at a loss for words, actually. From the bottom of my heart, thank you for taking this on!

Commuter's Journal January 1, 2010 at 7:21 AM  

I saw your link on Kelly Kilmer's blog and have an idea that may or may not pan out but I will e-mail you about it. I think what you are doing is totally wonderful and shouldn't be limited to SF, but one city at a time! -- JeriAnn