For many American families, diapers and wipes represent a substantial chunk of their monthly grocery budget. That's why a lot of mamas are obsessed with finding the best possible deals on diapers.
But when the paycheck that pays for those diapers doesn't come—and then doesn't come again—even the best sale price may be out of reach. Federal workers who've missed two paychecks due to the partial government shutdown should be getting paid soon, but when your baby needs diapers now, getting paid tomorrow or Friday doesn't help.
Enter: diaper banks. According to a new report from the Washington Post, America's diaper banks have been working overtime to help federal workers who have gone without pay during the shutdown.
According to the Post, "diaper banks are treating the shutdown as they would a natural disaster," and while the shutdown is now over (at least until February 15), the diaper disaster it created for many families isn't.
As Motherly previously reported, the shutdown had parents who depend on federal pay worried about diapers from the jump. On the first missed payday a mom who was worried about how she was going to pay for her mortgage or buy food for her 8-month-old baby told us she was grateful to have a large cloth diaper stash, and that she was even offering to share her cloth diapers with other families impacted by the shutdown.
That mother is kind and generous, but she is also lucky in some ways. Cloth diapering is not practical for every family. If the only laundry machines you have access to are coin-operated and outside your home, it's hard to make cloth diapering work. Also, the initial investment required to build a collection of cloth diapers is another barrier for many families, and some childcare providers will only do disposables.
In short, cloth diapers are a wonderful solution for many families, but they are not a tenable solution for most of the families impacted by the shutdown.
These families—these parents who work for the Coast Guard, the TSA, and other agencies—need disposables, and they've been getting them thanks to diaper banks across the country.
The people who are packing, transporting and distributing diapers to federal workers in this time of need are heroes. They are standing in the gap for these families and keeping a bad situation from getting worse.
Studies indicate that when mothers don't have the diapers they need for their babies their mental health suffers, but that an "an adequate supply of diapers may prove a tangible way of reducing parenting stress, a critical factor influencing child health and development"
Basically, getting fresh diapers onto the butts of babies that need them doesn't just save little ones from the physical problems that can happen when parents reuse diapers, but can also reduce the incredible emotional hardship and guilt weighing on their mothers. And when that weight is lifted, mama and baby are both better off.
The shutdown-induced diaper disaster many families are facing is highlighting the important role diaper banks play in American communities even when the government is running properly.
You can't get diapers through the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children ( WIC) and you can't buy diapers with a SNAP card (also known as food stamps). That's because these programs aren't for hygiene supplies, they are meant to fill families' nutritional needs.
But diapers are also a very real need, and in the absence of some kind of federal diaper program to compliment WIC and SNAP, diaper banks are the grassroots solution, and it's probably a good idea for those who can afford to donate to them to do so.
Because as the Washington Post reports, the shutdown has been the equivalent of a natural disaster for these organizations. They are depleting their resources to help working families who've been hit by a financial hurricane, but what happens when a real hurricane (or another shutdown) hits and even more American families need to turn to the diaper banks?
As the Post reports, the need is always there and will be there even when the federal workers get their back pay.
The reality is that every day, families in America—even families where a parent is employed—have trouble paying for diapers. The Diaper Bank of North Carolina reportedly provides diapers to hundreds of military families at Fort Bragg each month, but also helps families in other circumstances, like those displaced by Hurricane Florence.
The shutdown has shown us just how important diaper banks are to American families. The volunteers who are hustling to acquire, pack, transport and distribute diapers are heroes, and we can thank them by donating to the cause.