Baby2Baby Co-CEOs Kelly Sawyer Patricof and Norah Weinstein on the importance of mothers helping mothers

Baby2Baby Co-CEOs, Kelly Sawyer Patricof and Norah Weinstein talk to Liz about why they started their nonprofit that provides children who are living in poverty with basic necessities such as diapers, clothing, and school supplies. They also explain why COVID-19 has created a greater need than ever for supplies for families and offer guidance on what we can all do to help.

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Liz Tenety: Last year for Christmas, I was really inspired by some other families' traditions that I had seen that they were teaching kids in real ways what it means to give back. I kind of came up with this idea called "Elf Day" and my kids were off from school. I was off from work and we just spent a day doing random acts of kindness.

So we bought breakfast for everyone at the deli, we brought people flowers and the neighborhood. We dropped off gifts that we had donated. And when we went to a little play place in town, we paid for another family, the family that was going to come behind us. We paid in advance. This other family came in. And the woman said, I can't believe it because I just lost my job and this really helps me out so much. And I know that I was trying to teach my kids about the holiday spirit and thinking of other people first, but it was such a reminder to me that opportunities to make someone's day are all around. And there are so many people in need all the time. You might not be able to see it. And their needs may not be just financial ones, but it opened my eyes to an awareness of ways to think of others in a much richer way, all around me in my everyday life.

Liz Tenety: Hey mama. Welcome to the motherly podcast, honest conversations about modern motherhood. I am Liz Tenety, the co-founder of motherly and I'm a mom of four myself. I am really excited to be speaking today to Kelly Sawyer Patricof and Nora Weinstein.

They are the co-founders of Baby2Baby. Which is a nonprofit that does amazing work providing children zero to 12 that are living in poverty with the basic necessities that every family needs. Things like diapers, clothing, and school supplies.

I talked to Kelly and Nora about how COVID-19 has created this urgent, great need, a greater need than ever really, for these kinds of supplies for families and what we can all do to help.

They also talked about starting this nonprofit as new moms and how they work together to grow it to this really globally recognized entity, providing essential items to kids and families in poverty.

Kelly and Norah from baby to baby. Welcome to the Motherly podcast.

Kelly Sawyer Patricof: Thanks for having us.

Liz Tenety: Thank you so much for joining us. So we're really excited to talk about the work of Baby2Baby and especially your efforts right now in the very real needs of families during COVID. But before we get into that, I want to ask both of you, a question about motherhood for you as individuals. So what do you think makes your individual approach to motherhood unique?

Kelly Sawyer Patricof: Let me see. Besides wine 7:00 PM, I would say that I try and be as even keeled as possible. And my children will probably argue with me and say, that's not true, but yeah, trying to keep things mellow, I'm sort of the one in the house that keeps everybody on an even keel and tries to keep the energy level even and clam.

Liz Tenety: You said something, Kelly, that honestly spoke to me. In that I personally, as a mom of four and a puppy, I am surprised at this point by my own patience. And truly, and when you said you don't think your kids would describe you maybe that way, but that, that is how you see your approach to motherhood.

I'm positive my kids would say the same thing. I'm curious, like what's in your toolkit as you approach your work and your motherhood in trying to be that center of calm in the eye of the storm of life,

Kelly Sawyer Patricof: Deep breaths. I guess, I don't know. I think that's just, I think it is either your nature just is that way. I try not to get stressed out, or at least on the outside. And so everything for me, whether it's home life work life, I try and stay, you know, Come and try and breathe through it all.

Liz Tenety: So, Norah, what about you? What do you think makes your approach to motherhood unique?

Norah Weinstein: Well, I'm not that calm, but that's a good yin yang of Kelly and myself, but I would echo some of what Kelly said.

And then I think one of the unique things that I bring to motherhood is just this focus on giving back. And I'm sure it gets annoying at times because I think most parents want to instill giving back in their children. But having that be your career and mission in life is something that sort of colors everything that we do.

And it certainly doesn't always work perfectly, but it's not something that we just talk about during the holidays or at Christmas, it's really an all the time thing.

Liz Tenety: Obviously talking to your kids about giving back on a daily basis is such an extension of the work that you do, but it also must have a big impact on how they view their unique lives and childhoods.

So, what do you imagine growing up in an environment of meaning and giving back and putting the challenges that your kids may have in a broader context, how do you think that's going to shape their childhoods?

Norah Weinstein: I think my hope is that it's going to meaningfully shape their childhoods. And I think what we've seen through Baby2Baby is that most of our donors and supporters and ambassadors, when you talk to them about how they grew up, they will be able to point to a time that their mom or dad introduced them to giving back. And they'll talk about going to food pantries or they'll talk about how at Christmas, they went shopping with their own families to shop for a little girl or boy who didn't have gifts.

And we love hearing that because it means that something's working and something's actually seeping in because it's not so obvious all the time. I think that we've talked to some child experts who concur with this and say that kids really at a very young age, even if they're not understanding the deepest meaning of it, can understand a pretty simple concept about other kids not having as much as they do.

Liz Tenety: Kelly, anything to add.

Kelly Sawyer Patricof: Well, my kids do think I'm annoying because literally every time I say anything, they're like, we know we're very grateful for what we have, we understand. And I'm like, okay, sorry, you get it. So, there's a fine line between, you know, you gotta watch how far you push that with them because they definitely understand. And certainly their lives have revolved around Baby2Baby in the past nine years.

Liz Tenety: So let's talk a little bit about Baby2Baby's mission and especially the founding story. Can you explain to some of our listeners who may not be as familiar about where this mission came from your roles in it and the massive impact that it has today?

Kelly Sawyer Patricof: Basically, Nora and I met. We were set up on a blind, double date by my father-in-law. So, when I lived in New York, I used to volunteer at a head start center in Harlem. And, you know, I met so many kids who really didn't have the basic essentials. And there was this one little boy, his name was Brandon, and I used to work with him on his math worksheets.

And one day we were sitting there and he was crying and I was trying to figure out what was wrong. And he said, his feet hurt. And we realized that he had shoes that were three sizes too small, and his feet were bleeding. And just, you know, all of these kids coming from this area where it was really a low-income neighborhood and they fed into this school, they all, you know, had the same clothes every day, they hadn't eaten anything, they were really in need of so many things, but they couldn't really even focus on their schoolwork because they didn't have shoes that fit. They would miss school and they'd need to be fed breakfast when they got there because they hadn't had any.

So, I just saw that there were so many children who couldn't even get an education because they didn't have these basic things. I happened to meet Norah on this blind, double date who had done her own work with children in need through her pro bono work as a lawyer. And we were talking about our next move and what we're going to do now. We'd both moved from New York to Los Angeles and talked about how we wanted to start a nonprofit, but we wanted to do something that was really needed. So, we ended up going out and meeting with lots of different nonprofits in LA and sort of talking to them about what was missing and across the board, every single one we met with, whether it was a homeless shelter, a domestic violence shelter, a school, a hospital, all of them said, we need these basic essentials. Like we can focus on the work we're doing, but these families don't have diapers. They can't afford diapers. They can't afford shampoo or soap or clothes for their kids. That was how it all started.

Liz Tenety: And what year was that?

Norah Weinstein: 2011

Liz Tenety: Were you moms at that point?

Norah Weinstein: Yes. Very, very early, very new moms with really little ones.

Liz Tenety: Talk to me about that intersection of becoming a mom, having really little kids, understanding how hard it is, even in the best circumstances and then identifying such a massive need. You know, it's a nationwide, if not global problem of some of the basic essentials, like diapers, not being accessible to like a large percentage of new moms and their children.

What was it about new motherhood? Do you think that may have primed you to see that issue with such urgency?

Norah Weinstein: I think any mom in the world can tell you once they become a mom and even before, but amplified, once you become a mom, understands how many things a baby needs and how living without any of those needs would be so extraordinarily difficult. That a baby needs a diaper change 10 times a day, and that you would need that many diapers or that they were that expensive or how quickly their feet grow and how many shoes you need and the different food, and if you need formula. There's just such an enormous list.

Again, I think that is really what all moms relate to and it's what has related moms who donate to Baby2Baby and moms who we serve in our program is that it's a really a common thread among parents. What we then learned, even though in our own homes, we were seeing how expensive, the short shelf life of things, the feeling that you were buying a pair of pajamas, just to find that your baby had already outgrown them.

And then thinking about someone who didn't have the luxury to buy new pajamas every two weeks. We then as we got more involved in the founding of Baby2Baby, we realized that there was a statistic, that it was one out of three moms in this country who were struggling to afford diapers. And that was very much an eye-opening statistic for us.

And it's continued for the last decade to drive everything we do. And again, I think coming from the lens of a mom, to understand that with the challenges that are already embedded in motherhood, to understand that that was what a third of our country was actually choosing if they were going to put a diaper on their child or potentially another meal was something that felt unacceptable and that we've really devoted this organization to and designed it and devoted our careers to trying to help. And we talk about diapers a lot, even though Baby2Baby is more than just babies. We go up to age 12 and sometimes older. And it's also a lot more than just diapers, which we'll talk about, but it's bottles and books and strollers and cribs and backpacks and school supplies and warm clothing and underwear and socks and everything that a child could possibly need as they grow.

But the significance of diapers is that we feel like that is one item that really everyone can relate to every baby needs it. Every parent understands it. And again, we have a third of this country who can't afford them. On top of that, we talk about how it's 14% of the after-tax income for a low-income family.

It's the fourth highest bill they're paying. It's the fourth highest expenditure after rent and food and utilities. There is no government assistance for them. And probably what most parents can relate to and might not know as the diapers are required to drop off your child at daycare. So, this is all pre COVID, but you can't even drop off your child at daycare to get them an early start in education without a sufficient supply of diapers.

As we know these families don't have diapers. And so you're setting them up in the cycle of poverty where they can't return to work. Can't go to a job interview, can't drop off their child, and it's perpetuating this awful cycle. We've done some advocacy work to try to change that we were successful in lobbying the governor of California last year to finally remove sales tax from diapers for the first time in the state of California, which we were thrilled about, but it's a problem that is still there.

And so, we've distributed 50 million diapers in our history, but it's going to take baby to baby and a lot of other people and the government and lots of people to come together to solve those issues.

Liz Tenety: How can it be that this is such a widespread issue that the needs are so acute. It affects so many people and that nobody was doing anything about it?

Like what explains it? Is it that it's a family or women's issue and it hasn't been seen as something, you know, policy makers were taking more seriously. Is it something else? Like what do you see having sat and really made this massive impact?

Kelly Sawyer Patricof: Yeah. I think if you think about it, you know, and even during COVID we discussed this all the time, because since COVID began, we've distributed 350% more diapers than we did pre-COVID.

So we were distributing 1 million diapers a month, and now we're distributing 3 million diapers a month. So even, you know, if you think about it in the news, when COVID began, it was like, Oh my gosh, everyone's hurting. You know, paper towels and toilet paper, and people need food, and diapers were not on the shelves.

There were none. The families that we serve were going into stores with the very limited funds they had and there weren't even any to buy. The same with formula. Formula was gone. There was a national formula shortage. And, you know, formula as well as diapers, they're both expensive. And so our families are really struggling to afford those things and the parents are skipping meals in order to go to a store and buy them.

And then they're confronted by empty shelves when they do go into a store. So, in the news, it was toilet paper, paper towels. No one was talking about diapers. No one was talking about formula. And so is it because it's a mother's issue, a women's issue? I think so. You know, like it really feels like it's really hard to get our message out there.

And we've had support of, you know, governor Newsome or I think, but yeah, Kristen Gillibrand was one of the first senators who was a mother and she had a bill around crib safety and that was one of the first issues like that came from a mom that brought it into the Senate because she was a mother. And I think there's not that many women that are moms that are bringing these issues to light and there needs to be more and, you know, hopefully that's changing.

Norah Weinstein: I do think a lot of people they're trying to solve the problem. I think there are diaper banks all over the country. Many of them certainly predate us aside from diapers, of course, the impact of food banks. And for hundreds of years, people have been collecting at churches and temples and community-based organizations trying to collect clothes and give them to families and children who need them.

So, I think the heart is there. And I think what we feel the success of Baby2Baby has been is unlocking some creative ways to take in more items and be able to distribute more items through some different type of sponsorships where we've tried to turn some sponsorships on their heads and say, instead of, what can we do, what can we offer back to you. And we have a board and a group of what we call "angels," which are an extension of our board who are actresses and celebrity moms and influencers and big CEOs. And heads of all kinds of companies across industries, and we've tried to utilize what they can offer to give back in larger numbers.

Liz Tenety: So let's talk about the actual entity, the organization, like how do you actually do this? What is the role of your partners? And then how can the average mom listening who really cares about this issue? How can she get involved?

Kelly Sawyer Patricof: Well, we started in LA. The story is, it was Nora and I had an intern nine years ago and we had a cocktail party to announce ourselves as the co-presidents of Baby2Baby and Nicole Richie and Jessica Alba, who were board members from that day, were there.

And a photo of them ran in US Weekly and it said the Baby2Baby cocktail party or whatever. But the photo made an impact and two weeks later, we were sitting in our 800 square foot, tiny, tiny warehouse, and we got a phone call from Edelman PR and they said, hi, uh, we'd like to do an event with you.

And we'd like to give you a hundred thousand dollars and a hundred thousand diapers. And this was like, our second week and we were like, great. And they were like, okay, great. So, um, we'll do an event and we'll, we'll send you the diapers and do you accept pallets? And we're like, yes. And we're Googling like, what is a palett?

And they're like, Oh, great. Okay. So you accept pallets. Do you have a forklift? I'm like, sure. Of course we have a forklift. We had no forklift then. You know, the truck showed up and Norah and I and our intern got on the truck and unloaded it. Luckily the truck driver was really nice because it took us about three hours.

I think with the forklift, it probably goes a lot faster and he helped us unload it. And within two days we stuffed our tiny, tiny warehouse to the ceiling with boxes of diapers and we couldn't walk, but those diapers went out the door in one day.

And so we saw that need and how, obviously we knew diapers were so important, but seeing social workers coming in and getting them and picking them up and being so grateful and like, oh, our families are going to be so thrilled.

Like they need these so badly. They'll be able to now put food back on the table and we give them these diapers and all the social workers coming and picking them up and bringing them out into the community. I think that day really was a light bulb. And as much as we knew diapers were a huge need from then on, it just sort of led the way to everything that we've done.

And now of course, we have a 32 person staff in LA, a big 22,000 square foot warehouse, and we have 40 national network partners across the country who are under our Baby2Baby national network umbrella. And they all work with us and we send shipments of basic essentials to them. And that's how we support the children in their cities.

And also we have partnerships, you know, we have hundreds of partnerships with other nonprofits across the country, where we are able to give basic essentials to the children in poverty in those cities. So we're able to really spread the love across the country. From March until now we've distributed 35 million items to families affected by COVID across the country.

And if you think about it, in our history and the past nine years, we've distributed a hundred million items and 35 million in the past six months. You know, that really explains the need that explains, you know, with lost jobs. And so many families falling deeper into poverty. There's so much need. If you're asking what people out there can do to help. I mean, every pack of diapers counts every. Can of formula counts. We do have registries on our baby to baby Instagram, where you can buy an item for a family in need. Right now we are doing a lot of fire relief for California and Oregon. And so we have our trucks driving up into the affected areas, delivering supplies to families that have been evacuated or lost their homes. So we do a lot of these registries on our website, on our Instagram.

Norah Weinstein: And just to add something we love so much about our registries, like Kelly was saying is the tangible nature of it. So, we think that people have some fatigue about sending in $10 or $25 to an organization and would rather send in the stroller themselves or the diapers themselves that said, I think I probably speak for all organizations, but I'll talk about Baby2Baby today -- the reason that monetary donations go very far is that we also have such deep relationships with manufacturers from working with them for so many years, that if we are purchasing diapers aside from getting them donated, we purchase them for about 9 cents a diaper. Whereas they might retail for 35 cents a diaper.

Liz Tenety: One of the things that makes Baby2Baby unique, you alluded to it even from your launch, is that you have a lot of celebrity friends. And you also mentioned Norah that your network of angels and supporters has allowed you to turn some of the approaches to giving on its head. It's one of the reasons why I think a lot of our listeners may have heard of Baby2Baby before. It's from a celebrity that they follow. How does that work? How do you see your relationship to celebrities and influencers?

Norah Weinstein: I think we just have the most positive things to say about the women who are ambassadors for Baby2Baby. And to the extent that someone seeing it might think that their names on a piece of paper they truly never are.

And the women that are involved in Baby2Baby absolutely roll up their sleeves. They are committed board members and friends of the organization. And so that means that they support baby to baby in whatever way, Baby2Baby needs to be supported because that's really how you support a nonprofit organization.

You need to understand what they need and give back in the way they need. So sometimes it's doing a PSA announcement where. Kerry Washington worked with us to do a PSA in AMC movie theaters last Christmas to explain the importance of diapers. And sometimes it's Julie Bowen, hopping on a plane to go to Sacramento, to lobby decision makers about the diaper tax.

And sometimes it's Jessica Alba starting the Honest Company and making that a part of their mission to give back hygiene items and items throughout their company to Baby2Baby. We've really been so lucky. We're in LA and obviously, many of the women, but not all of them are based in LA, and they are moms at their core.

And so, I think they are helping with their mom hats on as much as their ambassador hats on, and they have the same reaction to motherhood that everyone else does. So, their babies also go through 10 diapers a day. Their babies also outgrow their shoes quickly. I think we're helping them use their platforms to give back to baby, to baby.

And so to us, that feels like a win-win. This extraordinary group of women have come together and have really decided to give back in a very deep way. And they've also involved their children in many cases and just like people listening, they also want to teach their children how to give back at an early age.

And I think a lot of the women have a lot of excess and are gifted a lot. And many of the women have been very fortunate in life. And I think they've just like, all of us are talking about, feel this desire to give back.

Kelly Sawyer Patricof: Well, we get a lot of the swag, a lot of the extra excess swag that celebrities get dropped off at their house comes to Baby2Baby, because if you're sitting at home and you get 10 strollers delivered to when you give birth to a baby, you don't need 10. And you're like, okay, I like this one. What do I do with these other nine? And you want to give them somewhere where, you know, they're going to someone who needs them. So, that's been a way that a lot of people have found us.

Norah Weinstein: Just also add that there's a direct correlation between ambassador support, celebrity support and the funds that we raise and a number of items that we're able to distribute. So, when the Duke and Duchess of Sussex show up and are so hands on in a school distribution a few weeks ago at a low-income school -- when that picture shows up, we get calls from sponsors. We get calls from companies saying we have granola bars, we have shoes, we have baby food. We have backpacks. We saw that you're supported by the Duke and Duchess of Sussex. We saw Chrissy Teigan being honored at your gala. We saw Drew Barrymore on your Instagram account. It translates into more items, critical items, getting into the country.

Liz Tenety: It is such an important mission. And I also equally respect, you know, as co-founders of this business and women who run this organization, just thinking about how to do exactly that, right? So, how to take people who care, who want to do good in the world. the businesses who want to participate and being incredibly creative and finding that intersection of the need and maybe the network or skill sets that you have. I was thinking a lot about that, actually, knowing that we were going to be chatting today because, maybe there are women listening who are not going to start the next Baby2Baby, but you know, they may have an idea of something that they're really good at or networks that they have or an opportunity in the world that needs their help. So, I'm wondering if there are broader lessons, particularly because you really started Baby2Baby. When you were new moms, are there broader lessons for our listeners about that? They can make an impact where the needs of the world and their interests and their networks all intersect.

Kelly Sawyer Patricof: I mean, I think when we think back and we started obviously very small and I told you our, you know, first day story on the truck and the heels of the pallets. So we didn't know what pallets were. I think if you think about that and you know, we had big ideas and we had big hopes for Baby2Baby, but it was two of us in an intern and we just started.

And I think one of the keys to our success that I always say is like, we never said, no people would call us and be like, do you accept paletts? We'd say, yes. Do you have a forklift? We'd say yes. I mean, we lied a little bit, but that's okay. It worked out in the end. We can figure it out. We figured it out. We just worked towards it. And it's so far worked out. If you have an idea and you go for it and you just keep saying "yes."

Liz Tenety: I love that. So we let the "nos" go. But in life, it's sort of, it's a philosophy of like building on your wins and keeping that momentum going. Yeah. We all need that.

Norah Weinstein: We've also surrounded ourselves with women. And I would say that would be another lesson of ours. Our board of directors is a hundred percent women. Our angel group are one hundred percent women. We're obviously women founders, our leadership team are made up of women, and there's a significant number of parents. So, our board and angels are also moms. I mean, a lot of for-profit boards are still very behind on equal representation of women and women of color and both of those things have been of paramount importance to us. I think it's worked. I think one of the unique parts about Baby2Baby is it's just, it's a lot of women,

Liz Tenety: Clearly, Baby2Baby has identified and is serving just this massive need in the lives of young families and young children.

But I'm wondering what you think it will take for there not to be such a massive need of an inability of parents to provide some of those basic necessities? What do we need to do, you know, on a cultural level, on a political level? So, that say, a generation from now 25 years from now, we're not talking about one in three families, not being able to afford diapers.

Kelly Sawyer Patricof: Well, I think it comes back to, you know, when we were saying there is no government assistance with diapers, there's WIC or snap or food stamps that people know does provide, you know, food and you can go to the grocery store. Diapers are not covered by that program. And if you think about how expensive diapers are, I know we're drilling it in -- but it is such a burden on low-income kids, families, you know, the fourth highest costs that they have after food rent and utilities is diapers. So if you really think about that and that there's no government assistance whatsoever, it's something that really needs to change. So, I think that's something we really believe in. Obviously, the bill that was passed is a great first step, but I think there's a lot longer road ahead and a lot more that needs to be done.

Liz Tenety: Well, Norah and Kelly from Baby2Baby. Thank you so much for joining us on the motherly podcast,

Kelly Sawyer Patricof: We are so happy to be here. It was so much fun.

Liz Tenety: (Speaking to her daughter) Oh, so do you remember when we did our "Elf Day"?

Mary: Yes.

Liz Tenety: Can you tell me about it? What did we do? Do you remember what we did?

Mary: Nail polish!

Liz Tenety: Yeah, that's right. We went, we went to a nursing home and we did their nails.

Mary: And it snowed.

Liz Tenety: It did. And we got the groceries for all those people.

Mary: Yes, the melons!

Liz Tenety: And do you remember when we went into the store and we bought everyone breakfast?

Mary: Yeah.

Liz Tenety: Did it feel good to be an elf?

Mary: Yes! Mom, I have an idea. So, when it is the day before Christmas can we do it again? And dress like elves again and help? And we can all go and James can go.

Liz Tenety: I'd like that. Yes, we can all go. James too. You'll be the cutest elves.

Liz: Well, that's it for our show this week. Thank you so much, Kelly and Norah, and thank you for listening. We have so many amazing guests this season. I can't wait for you to hear all of these episodes. So as always spread the word, please about our podcast. Tell a mom friend. And if you can please leave us a review on Apple podcasts.

It takes about 30 seconds and it helps other moms discover our show. Plus, I love reading all your reviews. Give me the good, the bad, the ugly, the great. I read it all. I love it. The Motherly podcast is produced by Jennifer Bassett. With editing from Seaplane Armada. Our music is from the Blue Dot sessions and I am your host, Liz Tenety. Thank you so much for listening.

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Hosted by Liz Tenety

Liz is an award-winning journalist and editor, and the co-founder of Motherly. A former Washington Post editor, she thrives on all things digital community + social media strategy. She's passionate about helping to provide women with more support, (and way less judgment), on the journey through motherhood. This podcast is an extension of her commitment to hosting honest conversations about modern motherhood. Liz resides outside NYC with her husband, two sons, one daughter and one amazing au pair.

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