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$1.2M federal grant will help Diaper Bank of Southern Az reach more families
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$1.2M federal grant will help Diaper Bank of Southern Az reach more families

  • Sellers Patton/CC BY 2.0

A $1.2 million federal grant will help families in Southern Arizona pay for more diapers and child care, U.S. Rep. Raúl Grijalva announced in late September to kick off a diaper distribution and research pilot program.

The Diaper Bank of Southern Arizona will use the grant to buy more diapers and distribute them at locations across the state that partner with the Arizona Community Action Association, also known as Wildfire, which focuses on providing more services to low-income families and individuals.

"With this federal grant, what we're going to be able to do is start making inroads into underservered or unserved areas," said Diaper Bank program manager Leslie Pike. "If you don't have a diaper bank of a diaper pantry in a community, families have no where to go for diaper assistance because there's no other social safety net for diapers."

The Diaper Bank of Southern Arizona has "a long way to go" as they "make sure we can get resources to all families who need them," Pike said. The federal grant, however, "is a big step foward. This is a huge leap foward for us."

The federal grant is meant to help Wildfire and the Diaper Bank distribute diapers throughout the state, including rural areas, not just to Southern Arizona, Pike said.

"We have only been able to get so far across the state," Pike said. "It's out goal to try to reach remote areas and all areas of the state over time."

The local nonprofit organization often partners with the Diaper Bank of Central Arizona, which is in Phoenix, as well.

The grant is one of the first to come out of the federal Diaper Distribution Demonstration and Research Pilot program, which will dole out $8 million in its first year to groups across the country that can “expand existing diaper distribution services,” according to a press release. The program launched the same day that Grijalva announced Wildfire as a grant recipient.

“A lack of access to diapers is not only a public health issue, but an obstacle to economic mobility for low-income families,” Grijalva said in a press release. “Diapers are a substantial expense for young families, yet there is very little assistance offered to help with the cost.”

One in three families in the U.S. don’t have enough diapers, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The Diaper Bank of Southern Arizona estimates that more than "1.4 million diapers are needed every year to help Southern Arizona with community diaper needs," according to their website.

The Tucson nonprofit had to partner to with Wildfire to apply for the grant, but Wildfire was named as recipient. The Diaper Bank will provide the "expertise on diaper distribution," Pike said, while Wildfire will be the "distribution partner," Pike said.

Wildfire will partner with other community action agencies who can offer a location to distribute diapers where there's the most need. Community action agencies, such as Wildfire, are local private and public nonprofit organizations that provide basic assistance to low-income families and single adults, and "CAAs are the ones who know families that can participate in the program," Pike said.

"We're partnering together and this will enable us to get diapers out into areas that currently have very little or no services at regarding diapers," Pike said. "This is just a win-win for everybody."

As part of the pilot program, the Diaper Bank will also monitor the impact of their increased and more spread distribution of diapers to low-income families. Wildfire is "uniquely poised to be able to work with families and track that kind of data" the distribution because their offices work face-to-face with families, Pike said. 

"The distributions are going to be to low-income families and then we will see if the increased amount that families receive every month has a measurable impact on each family's fininancial health," Pike said. "Does it reduce stress? Does it improve the health of their children? Does it actually increase the number of work days for parents."

Parents often miss work "due to a lack of diapers and sometimes don't have access to appropriate child care for their children if they can't provide enough diapers," Pike said. "We're hoping to have a bigger impact on that."

Diapers, already a costly need for families, have been getting more expensive, which has had an especially harsh impact for low-income families. The rising price of diapers has led a few states — such as Colorado and Iowa — to end their sales tax on diapers.

The price of menstrual supplies has also been rising, prompting the Diaper Bank to make an “urgent” appeal in the summer for menstrual pads, tampons and adult and infant diapers.

The $1.2 million federal grant is meant specifically to distribute more diapers for infants as well as for older children who need incontinence supplies.

Donations to the group can be dropped off at the Diaper Bank of Southern Arizona, 1050 S. Plumer Ave. Financial donations are also welcome and can be made online at diaperbank.org.

The Administration of Children and Families, which is a branch of HHS, is leading the pilot program. The head of ACF is January Contreras, a University of Arizona alumnae and Southern Arizona native.

The federal Diaper Distribution program also promises to connect families to job training, affordable or free preschool, housing services, and caregiver support, according to a press release. The ACF is using the Office of Community Services to work with local groups and deliver services on the ground.

The OCS wants to lift “a real and tangible barrier to health and wellbeing for low-income families,” according to Grijalva’s press release.

Bennito L. Kelty is TucsonSentinel.com’s IDEA reporter, focusing on Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Access stories, and a Report for America corps member supported by readers like you.

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