Corinne Cannon started the DC Diaper Bank with her husband in 2010. The DC Diaper Bank strives to supply low-income families with much needed diapers and supplies. A Woman’s Bridge recently spoke with Corinne about the organization and its founding mission.
How was the DC Diaper Bank founded?
We started in 2010. In 2009 we had a son named Jack, who is a fantastic little guy today but was a very difficult baby. He was a baby we had planned for and we had the resources to have, but were overwhelmed with how difficult it was to be a parent. We had a night with him where I had an overwhelming urge to hit him and it really scared me. I have come to know that nearly every mother reaches that point, and it’s a natural part of parenting to reach that point of parenting, but it scared me. I wondered, what happens to the mother who doesn’t know that—the mother who did not plan to have a baby? What happens when you do not have someone to go tag-team out? What’s happening to that baby and what’s happening to that woman? I found out that a lot of them needed diapers.
They needed diapers because they’re not covered by food stamps, they’re not covered by, Women Infant and Children Food and Nutrition Service (WIC) and they are just incredibly expensive and more expensive in poorer neighborhoods. So when I was calling organizations asking how could I help, what I heard over and over again was one of our highest needs were diapers. So I figured I’d work with the existing diaper bank, but then I found out there wasn’t one.
We did a lot of research, a lot of business planning, and on my son’s first birthday we incorporate the first DC Diaper Bank. We wanted to create something that would be an ongoing resource for the region and would approach the issue as a regional issue. Not just in Virginia, D.C., or Maryland but the whole area.
How many parents struggle to find clean diapers for their infants?
About 1 in 3 women experience diaper needs (not having enough diapers for their child on a regular basis). The numbers may be a little higher because we have a lot of working families that are stretching diapers, and that’s keeping a diaper longer than they should. A lot of American families don’t have the resources and just [barely] meet basic needs for themselves and their children. So for our region, we’re talking roughly 35% of the children are in low income environments right now.
There are certainly pockets that have more than that, different parts of the region have different levels of poverty, but we’re talking across the board. You need $100,000 to raise two children in this in this area and that’s to just to raise them, no extras. The cost of living is astronomically high and the disparity between those that have and those that have-not is really quite extreme here.
What strains and difficulties does a shortage of diapers cause for parents? What are the deeper implications about the cost and lack of resources for purchasing diapers?
At our base we are an anti-poverty organization. People say I’m interested in diapering the world, but I’m not interested in diapering the world. I’m interested in making sure families have what they need to thrive and that really comes down to the lived reality of poverty.
One of the things I think we do really well is we open up people’s eyes to what is it to live without resources. When our volunteers come in, the questions they ask seem like really simple questions but our volunteers are asking them for the first time. What do parents do when they don’t have enough diapers? I think that really touches on the divide we see between those who are struggling and those who are not. Their lives are lived in very different spaces and in very different ways.
A lot of what we do is try to raise awareness and from that awareness have people say “What would it be like if I did not know where my next meal is coming from? How would I get to work tomorrow because I didn’t have transportation funds?” and then ask “What should I be doing? What questions should I be asking of people who are elected, of my school system, of my employer? What should I be requiring and what should I be pushing for families that can’t have their voices heard?”
Poverty is not separated out. They’re all the same issue. They’re all interconnected. We live in a land in which there is more than enough for everybody and the fact that we have children that are going hungry a mile from the white house is not only disgusting, it shouldn’t be. This work is about having that conversation expanded. I think diapers are a way of doing that because it is such a physical experience, not to say that hunger isn’t, but every parent has been in a situation when they ran out of diapers. They know what that feels like even if they don’t know what hunger feels like. This is a way to hook onto that experience and expand on it.
How can the public become more involved in helping the DC Diaper Bank as well as being engaged with the community?
What you need to do is be a voice. WMATA is thinking of cutting a bus line right now because “nobody” uses them. Who is that nobody that rides that bus line? [The school system] is talking about getting rid of school lunches because that’s not what the school system is for. Who will that impact? We need to talk about poverty.
We need people to know that 50% of American babies are on some form of WIC. That’s a massive number of children that’s not being discussed. The thing this organization most needs are for people to have those conversations and for people not to be afraid of it. There’s a lot of fear in talking about poverty because you don’t want to talk about it incorrectly, you don’t want to say the wrong thing. You’re going to say the wrong thing and that’s ok. There is no right way to talk about children who are hungry, there is no PC way to talk about it, it’s a horrific thing. We should be discussing it more, we should be outraged by it more than we are, and we should be trying to find creative solutions. But the first step that most of us have not taken is discussing it and acknowledging it.
You are called the DC Diaper Bank but you also have a program called The Monthly. Could you elaborate on this program?
We do a little bit of everything. We do food and formula, we are actually a registered food pantry. We do adult food, baby food, hygiene items, shampoos, deodorant, and we just started a program called The Monthly which is collecting period products for low income clients. What our families really need are sanitary pads, more so than tampons.
There are a variety of volunteer and donation opportunities with the DC Diaper Bank, from monetary donations, donating requested materials, become a diaper ambassador, and more. Stay updated with the DC Diaper Bank on Facebook and Twitter.
By Jessica Flores