If you think snow was a problem for you, what about those that truly need your help?
By Nancy Woodland
With the snow melting outside my window, I think of the families served by local food banks, WestSide Baby, and other important social service agencies that have been closed by the snow. I woke this morning wondering what all the babies are doing without diapers. Snow is a fun treat and also a minor inconvenience for my family as we figure out whether we can get into work, whether the milk will be delivered and how to entertain our kids without having them watching a screen all day. It has much bigger consequences for our neighbors in poverty. For families that rely on the support of food banks, school lunch programs and diaper banks, snow is much more than a minor inconvenience.
What are they doing without diapers and food? WestSide Baby provides about 9600 diapers per week to local babies. Our local food banks are a primary source of nutrition for hundreds of our neighbors. My children’s school has a food pantry that sends home a backpack filled with weekend food for 50 families EVERY Friday. Kids on free or reduced lunch are pretty likely to have been without breakfast or lunch this week, not to mention dinner. So as I woke wondering about the diaper rationing that must be happening in many households because WestSide Baby could not open and our partner social service agencies could not get to us, I realized this is a testament to the incredible unspoken challenges of poverty. I was reminded how, without social safety nets, the impact is real and immediate for children in our community. Disposable diaper rationing is the practice of using as few as 1-2 diapers for a day, reusing soiled diapers or using things like paper towel in lieu of proper dry diapers. It’s reality when diapers are not available.
Working at WestSide Baby, I know that poverty touches thousands of our neighbors. Children don’t have winter coats, shoes, socks and underwear. Mothers flee domestic violence situations and leave car seats, bedding and special teddy bears behind as they whisk their children to safety. Just on Tuesday, a woman at Target didn’t have enough money to buy the box of diapers her baby needed and another shopper surprised her by making the purchase and giving her the diapers. The stories break my heart but I know we are doing something to help and that our communities care deeply about those in need. I can continue on with my day knowing my family’s basic needs are met and that we are trying to do something, however small, to help others.
This week held more than minor inconveniences for struggling families served by local food banks and WestSide Baby.
When we ran out of milk this week, we walked two blocks down the street to Safeway to buy more. I have 5 major grocery stores within 2 miles of my house, with another opening soon. For thousands of local families, the only option for food or diapers this week, if you had money, would have been a small convenience store. Prices would have been much higher there; diapers average 75 cents each in small stores like that. Your food stamps may have worked there but you can’t use food stamps to buy diapers anyway. You may have had to walk several miles to that store with your baby and toddler in tow because there was no one home to watch them. Or you may have had to leave them at home because your choice was that or have no food for them because, physically, you couldn’t take them with you through the snow.
When I couldn’t make it into work, I opened my laptop and worked from my dining room table. If you are an hourly employee, as most of the working poor are, you will not be paid for this week at all. If you clean houses or office buildings, you couldn’t get there and won’t receive a check. Your boss may not give you the option of staying put so you may have spent hours on a bus only to have it get stuck anyway. Your first grader, off of school, stayed home alone because you don’t have childcare.
As I complained about making three meals a day for my family and marveled at how many times we emptied the dishwasher because of all the extra hot cocoa mugs, I should have celebrated that I could do those things. I know others had very little to eat this week, listened to screaming wet babies while cooped up in too-small apartments and the fall-out will extend into the coming weeks.
Perhaps in the coming weeks those who do have enough might consider ways to help others?
Donate your children’s used items to an agency that can pass them along, free of charge. Learn more about diaper need. Drop off some extra food items at your local food bank. Strike up a conversation with your friends or co-workers on the subject and decide to do something together to have an impact.
I am so grateful for the all of the direct social service agencies that routinely support families challenged with poverty, mental illness, addiction and a multitude of issues on a daily basis. Without our public health department, Head Start Programs, food banks and DSHS, the families going without this week would be going without all too often. Without WestSide Baby and these others, it would seem like a “snow week” for local baby bottoms all the time and there’s nothing fun about that.
Nancy Woodland is the Executive Director of WestSide Baby which provides essential items to local children in need by collecting and distributing diapers, clothing, toys and equipment such as car seats, highchairs and strollers. Items reached more than 19,000 children last year through partnerships with more than 90 social service agencies. Located in White Center, WestSide Baby serves children throughout King County.