Diaper drive-thrus and period product pickups. Sweet Cheeks is helping Memphians in need.

Toilet paper is essential. So are diapers and period products.

But with the COVID-19 crisis came skyrocketing unemployment and unknown long-term economic impacts. Now or soon, more Memphians will have to choose between sanitary essentials and critical needs like food, housing, and utilities. 

Public assistance won't help. WIC and SNAP benefits can't be used for toilet paper, diapers, or period products. 

Sweet Cheeks Diaper Ministry is one of a handful of Mid-South organizations who already distribute free diapers and period products to adults and children in need. 

Related: "Mid-South Food Bank helms coalition to supply diapers, period products in Memphis"

Since March 12, demand has been overwhelming.

“It’s been non-stop emails,” said founder and Executive Director Cori Smith. “The very day [Shelby County Schools] announced that they were going to be closed through after spring break, that’s when I saw an increase.”

Smith said both individuals and local organizations are reaching out. Typically, Sweet Cheeks only distributes through its five partner agencies—MIFA, Dorothy Day House, Shelby County Schools, Hope House, and Knowledge Quest.

Smith said that as soon as shutdowns began, Sweet Cheeks set aside a month’s worth of supplies for their partners and started planning for direct distribution to individuals.

Sweet Cheeks distributed 11,000 diapers on March 25 to more than 400 families at its first drive-thru diaper pickup. Smith said families also received 2,650 period packs with the help of donations from the local chapter of Period Inc., Period at 901 Memphis.

The second diaper and period pack distribution is scheduled for April 25 from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Sweet Cheeks' warehouse location at 3292 Winbrook Drive. The event is first-come, first served. For safety, attendees must remain in their vehicles.

Smith said that while demand for diapers and period products has increased, support has decreased.

“The donations have kind of stalled," she said. "And I'm guessing it’s because everybody's kind of on edge about what their finances are going to look like.”

Sweet Cheeks typically accepts monetary and product donations but is encouraging people who can still support the mission to choose monetary support. Smith said they can only accept new, unopened products. Even then there are concerns about volunteers handling donations.

“Because of what's going on, we can't have any open packets. Normally, I can take open packs, like if your child outgrew [them] and you had 20 left over,” she said.

Smith said a monetary donation also has more impact. As a certified National Diaper Bank Network member, Sweet Cheeks can purchase items at a discounted rate.

“For $25, I could supply two families with a month's supply of diapers,” she said. “Donations are key. The more I can purchase, the more I can keep the warehouse supplied and be able to help more people.”

Click here to donate to Sweet Cheek's distribution events

Sister Supply Pivots From Schools to Shelters
Local nonprofit Sister Supply also pivoted its efforts to provide period products during the pandemic. Before closures, schools were a primary partner to reach tweens and teens in need.

“Due to COVID-19, many of the places we serve have closed,” said Executive Director Kelsey Johnson. “More than 80% of our recipients are schools, businesses, and small organizations. As of now, we are currently providing mainly to [homeless] shelters.”

Hospitality Hub of Memphis is one of those partners. The Hub has long been a day space for people experiencing homelessness to escape the elements, clean up, charge a phone, and get information and resources. The Hub has now opened an emergency popup shelter to absorb the increased number of people who need assistance. Many of the city's regular soup kitchens and service organizations are closed. 

Sister Supply helped The Hub set up beds at First Presbyterian Church and provide period supplies for 20 women.
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Read more articles by Brandi Hunter.

Brandi is a freelance journalist, brand writer and tech strategist based in Memphis, TN.