That’s where Shalonda Carr comes in. She’s the diaper coordinator at Bread for the City, the D.C. charity that is a partner in The Washington Post Helping Hand.
“Diapers are very expensive,” Carr told me on a recent tour of the diaper operation at the nonprofit’s Michelle Obama Southeast Center on Good Hope Road SE.
“This is just a small part,” Carr said, indicating a room whose shelves were loaded with diapers. Five other rooms held diapers, too, each section arranged by size. The powdery smell of fresh diapers filled the air, conjuring images of dry, happy babies.
“It’s not just diapers,” Carr said. “It’s every necessity. It’s wipes. It’s shampoo. It’s everything a baby can need, from formula to cereal to toys to a high chair to car seats — all of their essential needs.”
Two days a week — Tuesdays and Thursdays between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. — people can stop by Bread for the City’s Southeast office and pick up baby essentials. The charity distributes more than 50,000 diapers a month. The vast majority are donated by the Greater DC Diaper Bank, a nonprofit founded in 2010 by Corinne Cannon.
Back then, Cannon was the new mom of a toddler, Jack.
“I was amazed and floored by how hard it was to care for an infant, physically and emotionally,” Cannon said. “We had everything going for us — money to care for him and a lot of support — and it was still very, very difficult.”
Cannon thought about how tough it must be for parents not as fortunate as she was. She organized the Greater DC Diaper Bank from her Silver Spring home. The group now has its own warehouse space. It buys in bulk and distributes nearly a million diapers a month to community partners such as Bread for the City. About 30,000 babies are swaddled in Greater DC Diaper Bank diapers.
At a big-box store, diapers run between $75 and $100 for a month’s supply. But if you live in a community that has only corner stores, you can pay twice that.
“A lot of what we hear is that babies are staying in diapers longer than is healthy for that child,” Cannon said. “Parents face truly miserable choices: Do I keep the lights on or buy diapers?”
Tamalea Perry has faced such choices. She lives in Southeast. Her youngest child — Sakia, 2 months old — was born six weeks early. Perry depends on the preemie diapers at Bread for the City.
Perry first came to the charity for the free groceries it distributes.
“I was going through hard times,” she said. The weekly groceries were a godsend. The diapers are, too.
“It helps a whole lot,” Perry said.
“Part of the story is it’s expensive to be poor,” Cannon said. “It costs a lot of money to not have money. Our families are struggling mightily. We’re very, very grateful to all our community partners who have stepped in and are able to distribute diapers.”
Back at Bread for the City, Carr continued the tour.
“In this room I have 5s and 3s,” she said. “This room over here is newborns, 1s and 2s. We have another room full again of diapers. These are where the 4s are. These are our pull-ups over here.”
Most diapers come from the Greater DC Diaper Bank, but individuals donate unused diapers to Bread for the City, too.
“We do adult diapers as well,” Carr said.
To Carr, babies and the elderly have something in common: They can’t help themselves. They must depend on the help of others. And nowhere is that more true than when it comes to something as basic as a diaper.
“There’s always a need,” she said.
And right now our need is to raise money for Bread for the City, one of three local charities that is a Helping Hand partner. We hope readers will donate $250,000 by the time our campaign ends on Jan. 7. Our current total is $66,866.49.
To give, visit the website posthelpinghand.com. To donate a check by mail, send it to Bread for the City, Attn: Development, 1525 Seventh St. NW, Washington, D.C., 20001.
Read more from John Kelly.