City-wide diaper drive to support Memphis families in poverty

For Maundrica Brooks, motherhood has been taxing financially, mentally and socially. She is an 18-year-old single mom to her 2-year-old daughter and 8-month-old son.

“I need help with everything," Brooks explained. "Most important has been the money issue. Buying pampers, wipes, clothes, extra bottles. Then transportation sometimes because my mom works everyday, and I need to find a way to my doctor’s appointments for my babies.

And when my babies run out of diapers, I have to depend on my mom when I’m trying to do everything on my own.”

Fortunately, she has The Hagar Center, which provides support to teenage mothers. The center and its partners are working to organize the city's first diaper bank to provide families with free diapers, and September 22 to 30 they'll launch those efforts with the Bundles for Babies diaper drive.

Headquartered in Frayser and founded in 2010, the Hagar Center provides literacy and financial assistance resources for homeless and at-risk teen parents. In December 2017, Brooks began attending parenting classes and receiving free childcare supplies at the center, located at 3124 Thomas Street.

These donations are key, as items like diapers are not covered by government assistance programs. Running out of diapers can impact the whole family, including a parent's ability to work if the child can't attend daycare.

“Without diapers, babies cannot participate in early childhood education programs," said Dominique DeFreece, a fellow at The Urban Child Institute, a nonprofit committed to children’s health and education in the Mid-South.

"To go to a lot of those programs, parents have to provide an adequate supply of diapers per day. Without early childcare, parents cannot go to work. It creates a cycle where if a parent can not work to get money, they stay in poverty."

Erma Simpson, founder of the Hagar Center, talks about her program's Saturday Lunch and Learn classes for teen mothers where she distributes needed supplies that have been donated. Simpson is partnering with the Urban Child Institute to organize a city-wide diaper drive to provide relief to families in poverty and draw attention to the fact that diapers are not provided in government assistance.

In response, a collection of partners — The Hagar Center, UCI, Sweet Cheeks Diaper Ministry, Le Bonheur Children’s Hospital, The University of Memphis, Dads and Diapers of Memphis, and the Shelby County Government Division of Community Services — are championing a local diaper bank to provide sustained support to parents in Shelby County and are hosting a city-wide diaper drive to raise awareness of that effort.

UCI found that most children require six diapers per day, which can cost between $70 and $80 per month if bought in bulk. However, DeFreece noted that most parents in poverty can not shop in bulk and are instead buying diapers at convenience stores at closer to $100 per month.

Erma Simpson, founder and executive director of The Hagar Center, describes the state of teen pregnancy in Shelby County as “ugly.”

Related: "New hope for pregnant teens in Frayser"

It is the connection of teen pregnancy to poverty that takes the work of The Hagar Center beyond that of moral obligation to community activism. The center needs help, however, to make true impact. Currently, they serve about 75 teen parents annually and receive donations piecemeal. Transportation and lodging for teen parents are additional hurdles Simpson hopes to overcome in the near future. 

“We are always in need of diapers and wipes. They are our most requested items,” Simpson explained. “We get donations randomly. Not as often as we need them, especially money.”

The City of Memphis has a 26.9 percent poverty rate, and the rate of childhood poverty is 44.7 percent, according to the 2017 Memphis Poverty Fact Sheet.

The heartbreak for organizations like The Hagar Center and UCI is knowing that this child poverty figure covers impoverished youth being raised by other impoverished youth.

“I feel Memphis is very unique in the levels of poverty that we have, which is really sad to say. There aren’t many cities that have this many children and people living in poverty,” DeFreece said.

DeFreece explained that babies in poverty experience increased incidents of diaper rash, as parents reuse soiled diapers to save on costs. There are also increased cases of maternal depression among impoverished mothers who may feel inadequate due to their financial struggles.

This is why UCI and their partners say the city’s first diaper bank is a top priority. The bank will support existing organizations doing work related to diaper donations, including the seven partners launching the initiative.

“I’ve developed a few connections with partner agencies who will be getting diapers and beginning to distribute them,” DeFreece said. “[Diaper banks] have partners who provide wraparound services to clients ... [the diapers] are used to enhance a program they have or used as an incentive."

Brooks is in support of a city-wide diaper bank, and another young Memphis mom, Christy Bean Mosley, 27, agrees.

“I think the diaper bank is a great idea. The help is needed,” Bean Mosley said. “As far as the locations, I hope they are on a bus line and spread out, especially in South Memphis, North Memphis, Raleigh, Frayser, and Downtown. Even thinking of locations someone wouldn’t mind taking a parent to. If it’s too far, it’s not going to be worth it.”

She continued, “There will also need to be a website or way to let people know if they have or don’t have something. I just don’t want to see the diaper bank open and then go away because people feel like it’s unreliable.”

The diaper drive will kick off on September 22 with a party at The Neighborhood Christian Center, 785 Jackson Avenue, where there will be refreshments, raffles and a diaper cake design competition. On September 23, UCI will be at the Levitt Shell during Opera Memphis' performance to promote the diaper bank and collect donations. For the remainder of the week, supporters can make donations at public libraries, Crosstown Concourse and several other locations.

“I really just hope that through this drive we meet our goal of collecting 100,000 diapers and can start getting them to families and babies,” DeFreece said. “I would love people after this to see that diaper need is a real thing, and it’s important. When you’re aware you, become invested and you want to find ways to help support and address the problem.”

To learn more about the diaper drive and donations, email Dominique DeFreece at [email protected].

Support for this story was provided in part by the Urban Child Institute; it is one article in a series highlighting the impact and importance of early childhood education.  The Urban Child Institute focuses its grantmaking, advocacy and community support on kindergarten readiness and third-grade literacy in an effort to improve the education, health and well-being of children and families in Shelby County.
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Read more articles by Ashlei Williams.

Memphis native Ashlei Williams has been writing for business, philanthropic, minority and academic audiences for a decade. She earned her master’s in Journalism from Northwestern University’s Medill School and bachelor’s in English from Spelman College. In 2016, she started GJC Publicity, focusing on editorial, marketing, advertising and creative writing. Get in touch with her at [email protected].