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Hidden Heroes: Diaper dispensary serves as gateway to stronger families
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HIDDEN HEROES

Hidden Heroes: Diaper dispensary serves as gateway to stronger families

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Helping families

Elizabeth Digby-Britten, left, and Shana Berg from The Parenting Place say weekly diaper distribution helps them stay in touch with families during the pandemic.

If Americans have learned nothing so far during the pandemic, they’ve realized how the majority of the people around them, perhaps even themselves, are perilously close to financial hardship.

For many, missing even one paycheck can mean the difference between medications in their bodies or food on their tables or, in the case of young families, diapers for their babies.

That’s a choice Nell Saunders-Scott, Shana Berg and Elizabeth Digby-Britten of The Parenting Place didn’t want any family to face. So while other hidden helpers in the community ensured access to food and medication, they became hidden heroes to ensure access to diapers in a program that promotes far more than just dry bottoms.

The Parenting Place, a nonprofit organization that aims to help families give children a positive and loving start in life, began a diaper bank in 2015 to help ensure families could get diapers when they weren’t able to purchase them.

Diapers aren’t something most would think about unless they have young children, said Berg, a mother to grown children.

“A diaper is such a basic need for an infant or child,” Berg said. “When you have a baby, you just assume you’re going to be able to provide diapers. But many things can happen to prevent that. Just knowing there’s a place I could get them would be a huge load off my shoulders.”

So when Gov. Tony Evers issued the safer-at-home order and employees went to work from their homes, maintaining access to diapers was a high priority for the three committed workers.

They discussed how they could continue to run it during a time when the building is closed and social distancing is so crucial to preventing the spread of COVID-19, Digby-Britten said.

“We knew that resources were going to become limited. We saw the rush on toilet paper and diapers and knew we had to find a way to continue to provide the service safely,” she said.

Together, the women devised a plan to have a drive-thru diaper dispensary one day a week. Parents place their orders through email and text, and on Thursdays between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m., they drive up and ring the bell.

Berg and Digby-Britten prepare the orders in advance, so when a parent drives up, one of them will get the name on the order and the other will retrieve it.

They wear masks, keep hand sanitizer at their station, and no one except those who are working is allowed inside the building.

“Many families tell me that they’re working from home, they can’t maintain their hours, they’re struggling to pay rent, their positions are temporarily furloughed until it’s safe to go to work again,” Berg said.

A surge in demand attests to what Berg is hearing.

Before the pandemic, The Parenting Place dispensed about 1,000 diapers per week on average. Now they dispense about 1,000 diapers per day, according to Digby-Britten. Since March 19, the team has distributed 17,943 diapers.

About half of those diapers are donated. (The Parenting Place accepts donations during its drive each Thursday and at a box in the Once Upon a Child store in Onalaska.) Grants from the La Crosse Area Emergency Response Fund, totaling $7,000 so far, pay for the rest and ensure the agency has needed sizes.

“Most families are extremely grateful for the service, but it’s more impactful for families who’ve never had the help,” Berg said. “We’ve had some emotional families pick up diapers. We’ve been able to take that worry off their mind.”

Removing the worry is, in many ways, as important as making sure the children have diapers to wear.

“Alleviating stress and worry for families is hugely important right now,” Digby-Britten said. “We’re all feeling extra pressure isolated at home. Financial stress is growing; not everyone gets unemployment. Providing diapers is something we can do to help families, and that lessens the chance that stress will affect the children.”

For Berg, the diaper distribution is also a way to connect with families and maintain a trusting relationship during a time when personal interaction is mostly virtual.

“For me, the diaper drive-thru is not just about meeting diaper needs, but it’s also about connecting with families right now. It’s about keeping my finger on the pulse to see how they are doing, what support they need. And it’s a reminder to them that The Parenting Place is here to support them when they need us,” Berg said.

The approach, she said, has allowed them to refer some families from the diaper pickup to other services within the agency, showing how meeting basic needs can be a gateway not just to safety and security but also to belonging, love and stronger families.

“Obviously, it’s rewarding to know you can help people with basic needs, like food, shelter, diapers,” Digby-Britten said. “We know there’s more to survival, but until basic needs are met, you can’t get to the others.”

It’s a formula that works at The Parenting Place, she said.

“Sometimes we’ll have families that have used us in the past, and when they’re able to, they buy diapers and donate them back. That’s one thing that’s really special to me. It’s beautiful, the generosity. It lets me know we’re accomplishing our true mission.”

“We’re all feeling extra pressure isolated at home. Financial stress is growing; not everyone gets unemployment. Providing diapers is something we can do to help families, and that lessens the chance that stress will affect the children.” Elizabeth Digby-Britten, The Parenting Place

"We’re all feeling extra pressure isolated at home. Financial stress is growing; not everyone gets unemployment. Providing diapers is something we can do to help families, and that lessens the chance that stress will affect the children.”

Elizabeth Digby-Britten, The Parenting Place

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