St. Louis Area Diaper Bank Making a Basic Need More Accessible

Our Heritage Grant awardees are selected from among the top child-serving nonprofits supported by our Donor-Advised Fund clients. They each receive $75,000, paid equally over three years, as well as capacity assessment and risk management consulting. In 2021, we’re pleased to award our Heritage Grant to Annie’s Hope and the St. Louis Area Diaper Bank. This month, we feature the work of the Diaper Bank.

2020 was a pivotal year in a lot of ways. For the St. Louis Area Diaper Bank, it marked six years of serving the region, more than six million diapers distributed through 60 partner agencies, and the launch of a new initiative to expand resources for low-income women. “Last year alone, our diaper distribution topped three million and we added more than 30 partners, with another 30 on a waiting list. The need was like never before,” says Muriel Smith, Executive Director.

The only resource of its kind in the area, the Diaper Bank started in 2014 out of the founder’s garage – as the story goes for many nonprofits – after she heard a news report about diaper need across the country. Today, the Diaper Bank collects or purchases diapers and distributes them to a wide variety of service agencies and faith-based organizations. Through its new period supply program, the Diaper Bank also provides period supplies – tampons, pads, panty liners – to its network of community partners.

Being selected as a YouthBridge Heritage Grant recipient in 2021 is “huge for a young organization that is growing,” says Smith. The Diaper Bank has a long history with YouthBridge, which served as the organization’s fiscal sponsor until it received nonprofit status, and this latest show of support could not come at a more opportune time, she says. “The grant is intended to support capacity building, and we’re already on a path of thinking about our growth and capacity, especially in light of the enormous demand we have experienced. YouthBridge seems to be there exactly when we need them.”

Photo: St. Louis Area Diaper Bank

Smith says she and her Board are in the process of outlining a long-term strategic plan that not only addresses distribution but builds out programs around education and advocacy. While awareness of diaper need and “period poverty” is increasing, she says there are still facts that are staggering to people. “Some may be aware that items like diapers and menstrual supplies aren’t covered by public benefit programs, but they may not realize they are taxed as ‘luxury items,’ when they are as essential as toilet paper. With annual costs for diapers averaging $1,000 for one child and menstrual products about $480, this leaves low-income families struggling to choose between necessities and individuals missing out on school, work and daily life.”

A 2019 study at Saint Louis University revealed some of the impact of period poverty on St. Louisans, finding that 21% of local women lack period supplies on a monthly basis, leaving them to make do with cloth rags or paper towels during their monthly cycle. “It’s not only a matter of health and hygiene, but of dignity and believing all of us deserves to be clean and dry,” says Smith.

Even more significant is the snowball effect of lacking these basic needs. For example, there is a direct link between diaper need and the emotional and mental health of the entire family. Moms who do not have enough diapers are three times more likely to suffer from depression and anxiety, fussy babies are at an increased risk of child abuse, and the brain of a child whose needs are consistently left unmet can be left with permanent scars.

The Diaper Bank is part of the Missouri Diaper Bank Coalition, which has begun engaging and educating legislators about the issues and ways to address them. “At some point, the diaper banks don’t want to exist,” says Smith, “but until people have better access, we’re going to work to provide the basic hygiene products needed to live healthy, dignified and empowered lives.”

If you would like to donate or have any questions about this organization, please contact Allison McDonald.