Erin Campbell remembers feeling angry, sad and frustrated a decade ago after reading a statistic in a magazine: one in three families struggled with diaper need. Campbell, just a few weeks postpartum herself, was in a financially stable situation, but the thought of other new mothers having to clean and then reuse diapers forced her to take action. 

“I was emotional,” Campbell said. “I looked up ‘Where was the nearest diaper bank?’… and there was no diaper bank in the area. So I thought ‘Oh okay, I think I have to do that.’”

Recently, the diaper bank Campbell went on to found, Athens Area Diaper Bank, reached a new milestone: acquiring a distribution van.

How Big of an Issue is Diaper Need?

Beth Staton, community engagement specialist at the Athens Area Diaper Bank, shows off the warehouse located in the back of the organization’s office. The diapers in the warehouse are organized by size. (Photo/Ellie Shafer)

As living expenses increase, government assistance programs like WIC and food stamps still do not cover diapers, which cost on average more than  $1,000 a year. The statistic that Campbell read years ago has since increased to one in two families in the U.S. experiencing diaper need.

As the poverty rate sits relatively high at 20.7% in Athens, diaper need has greatly impacted the area. According to the diaper bank, more than 8,000 children are at risk of experiencing diaper need in Clarke and its surrounding counties. 

When families don’t have the money to purchase more diapers and are forced to reuse them, the health of their children is at risk. Reusing old diapers or keeping dirty ones on for too long can lead to rash, UTIs and staph infections. Consistently not having a proper amount of diapers can also affect early and crucial stages of a child’s educational experience. Children cannot attend daycare or preschool without a supply of clean diapers. 

Athens Area Diaper Bank Gets its Start

About a year and a half after finding out just how much diaper need impacts families in the U.S. and in Athens, Campbell got to work. When Campbell and her husband hosted parties and other large gatherings at their home, she would encourage guests to bring diapers. She soon recruited friends who felt passionate about the issue as well, and they helped her get the diapers to people in need.

Campbell founded the Athens Area Diaper Bank in October 2015. The bank became an independent nonprofit organization in 2018.

“It is not just providing diapers,” Campbell said. “A huge part of our mission is spreading awareness. That includes advocating for families who are experiencing diaper needs at the state, federal and the local levels.” 

The Athens Area Diaper Bank truck sits in the parking lot of the organization’s office. The vehicle is funded by congressionally directed spending. (Photo/Ellie Shafer)

This focus led to the Athens Area Diaper Bank getting its long-sought distribution van earlier this year. After attending an advocacy meeting with U.S. Sen. Jon Ossoff’s office over two years ago, Campbell applied for and was recently able to get congressionally directed spending to fund the van. 

“These things take time,” Campbell said. “I was patient most of the time and then other times impatient because I knew this would unlock so much for the communities around us that need diapers and don’t have access to them.”

Because of the van, the bank will be able to begin mobile paper distributions directly to families in the coming months, besides its current deliveries to its 39 partner organizations. By the end of 2024, with the van, the bank aims to provide 30,000 diapers monthly to residents of Barrow, Clarke, Jackson, Madison, Oconee and Oglethorpe counties. 

“So we’re not helping people just this month,” Campbell said. “We want to rid the community of this problem. It’s a problem that shouldn’t exist at all, it’s infuriating still to me. It still fires me up.”

Behind the Wheel and Behind the Scenes

Michelle Brinson had worked many years doing social work, but had not returned after giving birth. Her passion for meeting the needs of children and their hard-working parents is what inspired her to devote her time to the Athens Area Diaper Bank. She now serves as Special Programs Manager and drives the distribution van for the bank. 

“To do direct service is really my passion,” Brinson said. “It really fills me up. To see the look on their faces. To hear the things that they tell you, the little stories, the nuances and what it helps them do in a month.”

Michelle Brinson, special programs manager at the Athens Area Diaper Bank, poses for a photo inside of the organization’s diaper distribution van. The van allows the diaper bank to aim to deliver 30,000 diapers monthly to residents of Barrow, Clarke, Jackson, Madison, Oconee and Oglethorpe counties. (Photo/Ellie Shafer)

In her role, Brinson ensures that families in the District 2 who apply for the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families receive their delivery. Once they are approved, Brinson and other members load the van with 1,200 diapers for each family. The larger part of Brinson’s job is  overseeing rural deliveries to churches and small nonprofits in the six-county area the bank covers. Delivery trips can take anywhere from two to four hours, a number Brinson hopes increases in the future as the bank continues its work.

“It’s opening up some money that they wouldn’t have otherwise,” Brinson said. “To pay a light bill, or to buy more food because they don’t get enough food stamps to cover feeding their children or their grandchildren. To come home from that and know that you did something like that to help someone is remarkable.”

Drive for a Future Without Need

With the use of the van, as well as community driven initiatives, Campbell hopes the Athens Area Diaper Bank’s impact on the area will only grow. The bank is currently hosting a community wide spring diaper drive through May 3. May 1-6 is the World’s Largest Drive, and the bank encourages locals to participate.

The passion that Campbell felt when she learned of this issue facing families has not left her, and it is still driving her today. 

“I know that those mothers feel the same way about their children that I feel about mine,” Campbell said. “And we all deserve to be able to be able to love our children and care for them the way we want to.” 

Lily Brody, Taylor Gilchrist, Ellie Shafer and Allison Mawn are journalism majors and students in Dr. Walker’s social justice journalism capstone course for spring 2024.

 

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