The Overlook with Matt Peiken

Babies Need Bottoms | Meagan Lyon Leimena and Alicia Heacock

May 13, 2024 Matt Peiken Episode 159
Babies Need Bottoms | Meagan Lyon Leimena and Alicia Heacock
The Overlook with Matt Peiken
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The Overlook with Matt Peiken
Babies Need Bottoms | Meagan Lyon Leimena and Alicia Heacock
May 13, 2024 Episode 159
Matt Peiken

We hear a lot about pervasive social issues in our community—homelessness, addiction, racial inequities, affordable housing, liveable wages. All of those play roles in one particular need we rarely hear about—diapers.

My guests today are Alicia Heacock and Meagan Lyon Leimena, co-executive directors of Babies Need Bottoms, an Asheville nonprofit diaper bank that distributes about 40,000 diapers every month to partner organizations across 16 Western North Carolinas counties.

Alicia and Meagan say diaper need, as it’s called, multiplied fivefold during the pandemic. They talk about the daisy chain of circumstances, from transportation challenges to state sales taxes, that make it more difficult to afford diapers. They also detail the social and economic impacts, such as being closed off from childcare, when parents can’t afford diapers. 

SPONSOR: Terpsicorps Theatre of Dance returns for one weekend only with the premiere of "Before the Scream." Performances are July 25-27 at the Wortham Center for the Performing Arts.

Wake Up, Asheville! and ¡Despierta Asheville!  (in Spanish) are new morning newscast podcasts that give you all the local news you need to know in under five minutes. Both are free to subscribe/follow wherever you get your podcasts!

Support the Show.

Support The Overlook by joining our Patreon campaign!

Advertise your event on The Overlook.

Instagram: AVLoverlook | Facebook: AVLoverlook | Twitter: AVLoverlook

Listen and Subscribe: All episodes of The Overlook

The Overlook theme song, "Maker's Song," comes courtesy of the Asheville band The Resonant Rogues.

Podcast Asheville © 2023

Show Notes Transcript

We hear a lot about pervasive social issues in our community—homelessness, addiction, racial inequities, affordable housing, liveable wages. All of those play roles in one particular need we rarely hear about—diapers.

My guests today are Alicia Heacock and Meagan Lyon Leimena, co-executive directors of Babies Need Bottoms, an Asheville nonprofit diaper bank that distributes about 40,000 diapers every month to partner organizations across 16 Western North Carolinas counties.

Alicia and Meagan say diaper need, as it’s called, multiplied fivefold during the pandemic. They talk about the daisy chain of circumstances, from transportation challenges to state sales taxes, that make it more difficult to afford diapers. They also detail the social and economic impacts, such as being closed off from childcare, when parents can’t afford diapers. 

SPONSOR: Terpsicorps Theatre of Dance returns for one weekend only with the premiere of "Before the Scream." Performances are July 25-27 at the Wortham Center for the Performing Arts.

Wake Up, Asheville! and ¡Despierta Asheville!  (in Spanish) are new morning newscast podcasts that give you all the local news you need to know in under five minutes. Both are free to subscribe/follow wherever you get your podcasts!

Support the Show.

Support The Overlook by joining our Patreon campaign!

Advertise your event on The Overlook.

Instagram: AVLoverlook | Facebook: AVLoverlook | Twitter: AVLoverlook

Listen and Subscribe: All episodes of The Overlook

The Overlook theme song, "Maker's Song," comes courtesy of the Asheville band The Resonant Rogues.

Podcast Asheville © 2023

Matt Peiken: Talk about who originated Babies Need Bottoms and when was this?

Alicia Heacock: So our founders had moved into Asheville. And they were raising kids at the time and had experience in another state volunteering for a diaper bank. So they were aware of diaper need and what other communities were doing. And so as they were making their way in this new community, they decided that they were just going to start a nonprofit.

So they started it out of their apartment as the first diaper bank to ever serve Western North Carolina. And that was in the end of 2017. And in the beginning of 2018 is when Meagan and I both saw an article. I believe it was in the citizen times and it was talking about how this couple was starting a diaper bank here and they were looking for volunteers and looking for board members.

So Meagan and I were the first two board members to join. 

Matt Peiken: Wow. So you both. Knew each other you were you did not know each other. How did you come to know each other? 

Meagan Lyon Leimena: Sure So we met at the first board meeting 

Matt Peiken: and by the way when you're talking put the mic a little closer to you So you can talk directly into it.

Meagan Lyon Leimena: So Alicia and I met at the first board meeting and we realized that both of our children were in the same preschool class And so we had some connections but didn't know each other and so got to know each other through that initial board service And then in the summer of 2019 the founders Told us that they were going to be leaving the state.

They had found jobs elsewhere. Asheville is a hard place to have a job. And so they, we're moving their family to another spot. And so they asked if we would be interested in taking over the leadership of the diaper bank or that it could close. 

Matt Peiken: Okay. That's astounding on the surface of it.

You're both interested because. I want to find out why were you interested in this organization? You didn't found it. You just both stepped forward to want to be members of the board. Talk individually about why you sought that out. 

Alicia Heacock: When I moved to Asheville, I had a 10 month old. So I remember the experience of having a baby for the first time and that anxiety that came along with not having everything that you needed.

And I had everything I needed, right? I had the resources to go to the store. I had the resources to order something to be delivered to my house. If I didn't have a spare set of diapers in the closet waiting for me, it would give me anxiety. And so when I heard about diaper need, I was just immediately drawn to it on that level of I knew what it was like to even fear not having what I needed.

I did not know what it was like to absolutely not have it. And I knew that was a problem. I had also no idea until I learned about the diaper bank that you can't use public assistance to purchase diapers. I just assumed that if you had SNAP benefits, food stamps, or WIC, that you would be able to go to the store and get your needs met for your baby.

And that's not true. Diapers fall through the cracks of our social service network. And most people don't realize that. I surely didn't, and I really felt called to do something. 

Matt Peiken: Yeah. When you had first reached out to me, I didn't know this was even an issue. Now I don't have kids, so it wasn't on my radar.

You have kids and it wasn't even on your radar. Why do you think this is such a hidden element, a hidden need in our society? 

Alicia Heacock: It's A hidden need because this is women's work historically. So if you think about who's setting up the policies and how we are reducing access to social service programs and putting so many limitations on how people access them, what they need to do, the hoops they need to jump through. We're taking away the things that people need to function and to thrive.

We're taking away basic needs. That's one of the big parts of this organization and of the diaper banks that are across the country is to try to bring awareness to this problem that diaper need is often something that mostly mothers, fathers, grandparents too, but mostly mothers are really shouldering this burden in shame, at home in isolation because we're not giving them the things that they need.

And so diaper banks are this grassroots response and mothers, fathers that are coming here that support us today. We have a lot of grandparents who are in our network of supporters too. And once you realize What it takes to take care of a baby and you realize that no baby, no family, no mother is going to thrive if they don't have those basic needs covered.

You can't help but to do something about it. 

Matt Peiken: Meagan, what was your entry point into this? 

Meagan Lyon Leimena: Sure. So I had a little bit of professional understanding about diaper banks. My background is in public health and maternal and child health. So I had worked and studied around what moms and babies need to thrive and what some of the issues are, particularly at the intersection of poverty and health.

So thinking about like the social determinants of health. I'm also a social worker. And so I had worked in all urban settings, but I had worked with clients, particularly moms with young children and knew the struggles that they were going through. I would finish a session with a mom and then she would ask me for money because She couldn't afford to feed her kids, in the evenings.

Like I was familiar with all that professionally. And then I too moved to Asheville around the same time as Alicia. I had a six month old daughter. I was the primary caretaker. My husband was at work all day and I was overwhelmed with the magnitude of caregiving for children. And I consider myself to be a relatively competent adult, but I just, it was overwhelming to me how much the babies needed, how stressed I felt same thing, we were in the same kind of situation where we had all the material and the financial resources we need to care for our daughter, but it was still like, 12 diaper changes a day and feeding them and clothing them and doing the laundry and worrying about them and you know just wanting to be a good mom and all that went into that and so then Those things collided for me when I learned about the diaper bank and was thinking about What is this experience like for moms who are having all the same feelings or similar feelings and anxieties that I am But They don't have the option like Alicia said of like ordering more diapers or they don't have the material resources to okay I'm worried about this. I will you know stockpile the closet. So I know I have enough of something. 

Matt Peiken: It's one thing for you to both become aware of this issue join a board It's another for the founders to leave and want to hand it off to you. What made you want to step into that level of responsibility around this and that's one question the second question is what was happening on the ground in terms of Filling that diaper need when you took over this organization.

Meagan Lyon Leimena: Firstly, we did not know what we were getting into, I will say with confidence. I think it was in large part sort of an emotional decision that we did not, we couldn't abide by the diaper bank closing because we knew this was a gap. It felt like it was just getting started and we knew that there was need, right?

We can talk more about this later, but we provide diapers to partner organizations. And there were more and more partners coming to us saying we need diapers and So we could see that there was this big need in the community and I just personally couldn't abide by saying okay I'll just Won't do anything about this.

We were both home with our young children. And so I think we just figured we'll make this work. We'll figure this out together. I will say that it is some kind of serendipitous miracle of the universe that we were brought together and that we have been able to work as closely as we have for as long as we have. I feel confident saying there's No one else I could have done this with and that if we did not have the kind of unique co leadership and partnership that we have, I don't think I would have lasted in this role.

Not the least of which is that we took over in August of 2019 and COVID hit in March of 2020. And so need skyrocketed, like close to 500 percent increase in terms of need and all the work that we were doing, we were also doing with our young children. 

Matt Peiken: You just said something that kind of struck me. You said COVID increased the need. That's interesting in itself, because you would think that there's still the same number of children, still the same number of times that you need a diaper. Why did the pandemic have such a five fold increase in the need for diapers?

Alicia Heacock: So if you remember back to those days, and we don't want to visit ever again,, a lot of people immediately lost their child care. You can't go to work if you don't have child care. Child care is everything. So when the schools closed, parents couldn't go to work, mostly mothers were the ones that were staying home and shouldering that burden.

And Not only that, families were facing reduced hours So maybe you had one adult that was able to stay home and maybe you had one adult that was losing hours So families were facing reduced paychecks and for the first time a lot of folks found themselves in this position that they'd never been in before where they Had never maybe applied for public assistance.

They weren't already receiving benefits and that's not an easy and fast, you go in one day, you get a check, that's not how it works. And so I think there's also a lot of shame that goes along with having to figure out and navigate these systems. And so we immediately started to see an uptick in our partners that we currently had.

And at the time I think we had about 12 partners that were just serving the area. We call the Asheville and the surrounding area. We had five counties about that we were serving, but it was mostly Buncombe partners at that point. And so that was going into the pandemic. And now we have over 75 partners, 16 counties. It's grown tremendously. 

Matt Peiken: Yeah. Let me ask you. So you say partners. Is this how you find out about specific families that have this need? Give me a sense of the range of these partners. Who are they?.. 

Alicia Heacock: So i'll back up and say we follow a partnership model It's a national diaper bank network best practice.

So we don't give diapers directly to families There's already so many amazing organizations in our community and in throughout western north carolina that are already working with families And if you need food and you have little kids at home, like you need diapers You can't afford them if you can't afford food. So For us, we are using this partnership model where we're bringing in resources from outside of Western North Carolina.

We had 100, 000 diapers donated in March that came from California, came from Texas. So when we are able to leverage our relationships in a national scale and bring those resources into the community, then we can leverage what our partners are doing. So we have about 75 partners across the 16 counties that we're currently able to serve and they range from early childhood education centers, domestic violence, WIC programs in the Department of Health. 

Meagan Lyon Leimena: We also work with the school systems, so the city and county family resource centers. And then a lot of more specialized organizations, groups that serve refugees or perhaps migrant farm workers, some more specialized groups.

And so the idea is that we want to scaffold the existing resources and not make it harder for anybody to get diapers. So we want diapers where everybody already are and where they're receiving services. 

Matt Peiken: You sent me some information and I you know on your website Obviously, there's other information.

So one in two families in the u. s. Have this Quote diaper need and you also pointed to in some of your writing to me some of the specific Elements of living in Asheville and Buncombe County that exacerbate the issue. Can you talk to some of those things? Why is that a particular need in Asheville that may not be happening in other areas?

Meagan Lyon Leimena: Sure, so when we talk about diaper need, that is not having enough diapers or a sufficient supply to keep your child clean, dry, and healthy. What that basically boils down to is a parent or caregiver not being able to change that diaper when they know that child needs it. And That's bad for Children, right?

It compromises their health and their well being. It's stressful. There's national data that supports that and we have local data that corroborates that for mothers in particular, not having enough diapers is deeply stressful for them. This is a significant national public health issue, and we really see it highlighted in lots of different ways in our community.

So one of the main drivers of poverty and instability for families and for parents of young children is the high cost of housing, in Asheville in particular. And because we serve all of Western North Carolina, we are talking about different communities, some more rural, some more urban there are considerations for all these different communities, but in general, it is incredibly expensive to live in this area.

The workforce, like the jobs that are available do not support Families being able to have their basic needs met essentially like we always talk about what a family's need to thrive. But we're talking about what do they need to survive? You know when we have a lot of shelter partners, Particularly the shelters that serve families or that allow parents and children to be there that they are seeing like this pandemic big increase in need, right?

And that there's a significant increase in unhoused families. The schools share the same sort of anecdotes with us that kids are living in their cars, they're couch surfing, that families are not able to live stably. And not being able to afford that huge essential means that everything else Falls behind that.

Matt Peiken: You mentioned a range of things that are interconnected that I hadn't thought about. You talked about the crises in early childhood education, which I've had people on my show talking about that. We didn't talk about the spillover into diaper need. We talked about housing instability.

That's been a topic on my show. We have not talked about diaper need in this. Foster care has been a topic in my show and substance use, which I thought was interesting. How does that play into this? 

Meagan Lyon Leimena: Yeah, so we have several partners here that work specifically and pretty uniquely with moms that are living with and experiencing substance use.

So that perinatal period, which is that time prior to a baby being born, and then 12 to 18 months after birth, is a very vulnerable time for mom and baby and the whole family unit really. And that is compounded and complicated when there's substance use issues. So moms in our community, particularly those who have been dealing with opioid addiction who are pregnant or parenting, they are dealing with all those intersections of poverty and stressors, right? So they tend to be unhoused. They are under or unemployed. They are hungry. They are dealing with mental health issues oftentimes. And so when they are also parenting young Children in particular, having young Children, they are struggling to really get through the day and have their own needs met.

And similarly, they are trying to do the same thing for their Children. And that means feeding their Children. It means diapering their Children. We heard from a partner within Western North Carolina that serves Moms living with substance use, and she was saying she had a mom come in. The baby hadn't eaten in like 25 or 30 hours. And instead of a diaper, she had like a dish rag wrapped around the baby a couple of times, like a makeshift diaper, and it just reflects the fact that like some of our community members are living in like real desperation, like really not having their own needs met and similarly for their young children not having these basic hygiene needs met. 

Matt Peiken: Yeah, you know one of the things that you mentioned to me also which I think I would have thought would not be an issue, but that diapers are taxed as household items. I would think it would be treated almost like groceries in a way which are not taxed. Is that not the case in every state? Do some states treat it more where You know, it's not taxed and north carolina is an outlier?

Give me a sense of perspective here.

Alicia Heacock: Yeah, so across the country. There's actually been a really big push. I don't remember the exact number, 25 states that have repealed the diaper tax. And if you think about it in Buncombe County, we pay 7 percent sales tax, which is the highest that you pay in sales tax in the state. And if you're paying 80 to 100 a month for your diapers, you're taxed on all of that. 

So over the course of the year, over $1000 go to diapers and you're paying tax to the state. The state is benefiting from that basic need that you're paying for. So one of the things that states across the country are doing are saying, let's repeal that diaper tax.

It's a small Amount of money per person, but it can make a big difference. 

Matt Peiken: Sure when you're talking about a thousand dollars You know, that's seventy dollars a year and for somebody who's really living below. That can be a lot So is there an advocacy? Is there a lobbying happening in raleigh to make this happen?

What is pushback from legislators as to why this is still a tax? 

Meagan Lyon Leimena: So I think one of the most important things to think about for this is to go back and even say, like, why was this taxed in the first place? So you might be familiar, folks might have heard about the pink tax, which is taxation for period products.

And so diapers are similarly taxed that way. And to get back to the issue that Alicia mentioned earlier about like, Why don't people know about this? I think we should ask ourselves who created these policies and laws and who's allowed them to perpetuate. Do people even know about it, right? Who pays for these things, right?

So it's mom and women and moms for the most part who and I will say quickly that there's some national research. There's a wonderful sociologist out of California that has studied diaper need with low income moms and She has really dug into what their experience looks like, and one of the things that she found out was that moms will consistently sacrifice meeting their own needs, including buying their own hygiene items, like period products, so that they can purchase diapers.

Think about the double whammy of punishment for that mom: do I buy tampons? Do I buy diapers? Oh, and also we need to eat. 

Matt Peiken: I'm just out of curiosity, are tampons and other period needs also taxed? 

Meagan Lyon Leimena: Yes. 

Matt Peiken: That's crazy. 

Meagan Lyon Leimena: Also not covered by the same public assistance programs.

These are considered, quote, luxury items. 

Matt Peiken: Has there been any talk at the federal level, if not the state level, to have diapers covered by WIC and other public assistance programs? 

Meagan Lyon Leimena: Yes, there are some conversations that are ongoing. Part of the problem like with WIC in particular, which is women, infants and children. It's a supplemental nutrition program to support breastfeeding and moms, with formula and food for breastfeeding moms, is that those are underfunded programs and they are supplemental programs, so they do not cover the full needs. So if you receive WIC, that's not going to cover all your formula costs for the month So you're still paying out of pocket if you're a parent who is eligible for that benefit. If diapers were to get tacked onto those programs that would further deplete What's available to cover food. 

Matt Peiken: Got it, so it's not as if oh we now classify diapers as wick eligible and we're going to give you more money. It's not more money. It actually forces parents to make more of a choice about how they spend that money. 

Meagan Lyon Leimena: Exactly and so There are efforts at the national at the state level.

I was just in D. C. A couple weeks ago with the National Diaper Bank Network as part of their annual lobby day meeting with our representatives, and diaper banks all across the country were meeting with all of their representatives as well. And we were advocating for co Sponsorship of current legislation that's been introduced in the House and Senate called the End Diaper Need Act. This is an act that would allocate federal funding to diaper banks because there's currently no federal funding.

The funds that diaper banks receive are entirely state or community based. And so at a state level, we are also working with our, we call them our sister organization, the Diaper Bank of North Carolina, which is located in the eastern part of the state, to advocate that we be included in the North Carolina state budget.

Matt Peiken: What are you hearing back from legislators? On the surface of it, my thought is not a single legislator is in the position of this diaper need. I would imagine it's certainly not at the federal level, probably not at the state level too. So is there a challenge in our legislators even being able to relate to the issue?

Is that a challenge, or are you finding receptive ears and they just didn't know that this was an issue? 

Meagan Lyon Leimena: Yes, I would say that a lot of people are fully unaware. This is not something that people know about, either it hasn't been their personal experience, Or maybe when they had their own children, they were not doing the diapering. They knew that baby's diaper got changed, but they didn't know 

Matt Peiken: it wasn't even on their radar, right? This was never a need of theirs, like whether they had daycare handling it or whatever, it went into the money they just threw at it. And then it was problem solved. 

Meagan Lyon Leimena: Exactly. 

Matt Peiken: So it's not so much, you're not thinking it's so much a lack of empathy issue as it is lack of awareness. 

Meagan Lyon Leimena: Yes, absolutely. This is a poorly understood issue. It's a hidden issue. It's not seen as a public health issue. And in large part, like Alicia mentioned, culturally in the United States, we think especially about bathroom behavior, about hygiene as very private, personal space. We close the door to our bathrooms. We don't like to talk about it. And if you look at this from like a class perspective, this is also the sort of care work or caregiving work people had help. A nanny might have done this for somebody or babysitters, or, maybe it wasn't the parents. It often was not the father or the man in the family. And so these issues haven't been talked about and haven't been at the forefront of anyone's mind.

And unfortunately, we know that when folks in power are talking about how money is going to be spent, the needs of women and children are not paramount. Nobody wants Diaper need. I have never spoken with anyone that says that doesn't seem like that big of a deal, or I just don't care about that.

They'll say, yes. Oh my gosh, this is really important. We'll have to find the money. 

Matt Peiken: Yeah for this, you have framed this as an equity and economic issue. I thought that was interesting I hadn't thought of it before as an equity issue. One of the things you talk about Is purchasing diapers in bulk as being a luxury to some degree that you know, I would have thought oh just go to your whatever Walmart or Target, buy a box load of diapers.

And you're saying that's out of reach for a lot of families to buy in bulk. Talk more to that and how this speaks to how diaper need is an equity issue. 

Alicia Heacock: Diapers are interesting because it's like the economy of scale benefits you if you have access to a line of credit, if you have a large enough vehicle to be able to transport a large box to your car.

Because if you can buy a month's supply, then you pay less per diaper. But say you don't have a car, say you don't have a credit card, you don't have access to credit, you can't have something shipped to your house. Say you are going to the family dollar. And that's the closest thing you have, or you have a CVS and you're buying, they don't even sell a month's supply at these types of stores, so you're buying a very small package. And every year we do an analysis where we look in our region, what would I pay if I were going to CVS versus Walmart versus Sam's Club versus Amazon versus Dollar General? What would I be paying? And we are finding that If you're buying a size 7 diaper at a Dollar General in the smallest pack, you might be paying 75 cents per diaper.

Now, if you're buying a newborn size diaper at Walmart, you might be paying 10 cents or less per diaper. So the per diaper cost is significant depending on both the size of your baby and Where you're buying it and how big of a package that you have access to be able to purchase it from. Not only that, but the cost increase since the pandemic, I think that the cost increase has been over 22 percent for diapers just in general, because of the cost increase that we've all experienced. 

Matt Peiken: Yeah, I hadn't even thought about this, like at a pragmatic level, if you're riding a city bus to get somewhere, like a box, a bulk of diapers, that might take two hands to carry.

You can't shop for anything else. You're limited in terms of what you can bring. 

Alicia Heacock: And imagine you have a baby with you or two, what are you going to do? You can't, you just absolutely cannot. There's been studies in our state where like convenience stores will split up packs of diapers and sell diapers individually.

Like a pack of cigarettes. Here's a smoke. Here's a diaper here. Here's a diaper for a dollar. And so really if you're in that position where that's where you're having to go to get your diapers You're really being taken advantage of. This is not the you know a fair economy. This is really taking advantage of families who don't have anything else to 

Matt Peiken: give. 

Now you work with partners both on the receiving diapers end and on the Giving distribution part of it. And you get you just spoke a little while ago Meagan that you had a donation of a hundred thousand diapers from california. I want to make note here that You've distributed more than a million diapers since the founding of Babies Need Bottoms and about 40 000 diapers per month. That's Sounds like a huge figure. In the supply chain, is the need greater than the diapers you're receiving to distribute? Give me a sense of the need that you're facing. 

Alicia Heacock: So here's a really interesting thing. As the only diaper bank serving Western North Carolina, we are the only ones that has been trying to count this number. We are trying to understand what is diaper need.

Diaper need has always existed, and you mentioned that earlier. This is a need that is not a brand new need, but because it's been experienced in this isolation, and there hasn't been anyone filling the need. No one else has been counting it. So other organizations have been attempting to raise money to do diaper drives, but they can never do enough.

And so they turned to us. And that's where our partnership model really thrives, is that the organizations that were already trying to help families with this need, they can now help them whereas they wouldn't be able to before. 

Matt Peiken: What do you mean? Explain that a little more where they can now where they couldn't before.

What do you mean? 

Alicia Heacock: So because we exist, so our partnership model, we ask our partners every month, how many families are you serving? How many infants need newborn diapers, one diapers, two diapers, three. So every single size of diapers. So they are reporting to us every single month how many families they're currently serving that are facing diaper need.

And so what that's allows, allows us to do is to not only fulfill those needs every month as long as we have enough inventory, which I'll tell you we don't always have enough inventory, Especially of specialty sizes preemie diapers, size sevens, pull ups, fives and sixes. We don't always have those. Wipes, we don't always have enough wipes, rash cream. We don't always have enough fresh cream. So we are able to give what we have in our inventory, but because we have grown so quickly, we actually have a wait list of about 20 organizations that we have not brought on because we want to make sure that we can fill our current partners needs before we bring on new partners. 

Matt Peiken: That's amazing So you have more than 70 organizations across 16 counties, But you have a waiting list of more organizations. And before Babies Need Bottoms. How were they filling? They weren't. You're shaking your head alicia. So just to understand this, so families who were working with these Agencies individually would request diapers and these agencies were saying, we can't help you?

Meagan Lyon Leimena: Yeah. So we've asked our partners, how did you get diapers? What did you do in the past? How do you know that families need diapers? Like really, like Alicia said, trying to uncover what diaper need looks like. And what they tell us is that they would do the best they could, which all of our social service partners are always doing, nobody has enough. They don't have enough resources. Everybody is stretched thin and they are All doing their very best. And I want to say that we feel very privileged to work with all of our partners. So they would rely on community donations. Folks will tell us we'll put a request out on Facebook or I'll ask my neighbors.

Or we'll go ask the grocery store if we could get like a 25 gift card. Really, like if you think about that example of the bodega or the corner store saying, I'll sell you one diaper for a dollar, it's almost that sort of a response. Okay, we've got a family right now that needs diapers. Okay. 

We'll just do whatever we can to try to get this family. Those diapers will do our best. We have also heard particularly from our more mobile market partners, like we work with Manna and Bounty and Soul and some of the market partners I've had the chance to be out there and actually talk with families and they'll say I will just take whatever size I could get, and put a size on that isn't the right fit, but is something.

Matt Peiken: It's just available. 

Meagan Lyon Leimena: Exactly. Versus having nothing. Families will also tell us, particularly families who are unhoused and We talked earlier about that sense of desperation that families are operating from. They'll use grocery bags, paper towels, newspapers, things like that. The dishrag, like anything they can use. 

Matt Peiken: Where are you getting your diapers from? You mentioned, a hundred thousand from California. Where did that come from? Are diaper manufacturers giving bulk diapers to a diaper bank such as yours? 

Meagan Lyon Leimena: There's a couple of ways we receive these in kind corporate donations.

So we're members of the National Diaper Bank Network and they have an exclusive relationship with Huggies and we are eligible as a diaper bank. We distribute a certain amount of diapers. And so we are eligible for these large donations of tens of thousands of diapers that come from Huggies.

Which is incredible and helps us say yes to the partners that we have. And we do our best to provide waitlist bundles to the folks that are waiting, but we're not able to serve every month. So when we receive donations like that's a time when we can say, Hey, we can give you something.

We're also members of baby to baby, which is based out of LA in California, and they provide a wider range of diapers and hygiene supplies. So we receive diapers of all sizes and rash cream and wipes. In the past, we've received things like body wash and baby shampoo some clothes and other formula.

So during the formula crisis, they were essential in providing, I think over a thousand canisters of formula that we were able to give directly to MANNA. And so those are two significant sources of In kind donations for us. 

Matt Peiken: How can people here in Western North Carolina dial into what you're doing in a pragmatic way? Everybody needs money, every non profit does. Are there other ways for people to be involved in this issue beyond just donating? 

Alicia Heacock: So you're right. Donations help us pay our rent, for instance.

We actually had to move into a new warehouse recently, and we're so pleased that we have a warehouse now that has a loading dock that can accept a 53 foot tractor trailer with a cab, because we learned the hard way that our former location could not. And so donations, I'm just going to highlight, you already said it, It's so important to be able to have the income, the funding to be able to afford rent so that this can even be possible.

And the same thing is true with staffing. So when Meagan and I started, we were volunteers. That's not a sustainable solution for an organization of our size. It isn't. Are you kidding me? And so we're actually in a growth phase right now where we're looking to hire our first real employee to help us because we grew so quick during the pandemic, we went from distributing 35, 000 diapers a year to 500, 000 diapers a year in the period of five years. And that growth is not sustainable except for we've been able to grow with the support of the community. So that looks like donations coming from individuals, from businesses, from foundations, from local government.

But that also looks like a huge volunteer output. So one of the things that's really personal to Meagan and I is that we are moms. We have collectively, between the two of us, five children that we are still raising. This is a part time gig for us. We are very passionate about it, and we find that when we share the story with other people, this resonates on a human level.

And we want to invite everyone who this resonates with to come and join us. So our new warehouse is giving us the opportunity to bring more people in with us. Now that the pandemic is over, we can bring people to the table with us. And so we have volunteer jobs that we can bring people in and they can work alongside us.

But also, you don't have to come with us. You can do this in your own community. You can have a diaper drive with your neighbors, at your school, at your office, and you can do things that you don't have to be with us to still support this mission. 

Matt Peiken: Is there anything we haven't talked about around need, around policy imbalance in terms of supply demand that you think is important for people to understand in a way we haven't talked about or fleshed out enough yet?

Meagan Lyon Leimena: So there's something very specific around diaper need that doesn't get talked about a lot, but we would like to highlight. Potty training, which if you are a parent, that expression might strike fear in your heart because it is a complex and challenging time for children and adults.

This is a very complex, stressful time for families and children. It is developmentally The riskiest time for Children. Because it is stressful, it is hard on parents and on Children. And so it is the time in which Children are the most likely to be physically abused.

So the intersection with diaper need is when you do not have enough diapers and you are Trying to go through this natural process with children, right?

Which also has a pretty wide developmental range. So some kids are ready to potty train between the ages of two and three. For some kids, it's more like they're not fully potty trained until they are six, seven, much older, which is completely normal. So When families are going through this process and they don't have enough diapers, they sometimes try to potty train before children are ready.

So they want to get them out of diapers because they're too expensive, but a child is not developmentally ready for that. So that puts that kid at risk because you're setting yourself up for failure. So when families don't have enough diapers, this normal, developmental process becomes even more stressful for everybody. And this is why diaper assistance programs matter.

So pull ups in particular, which are a tool lots of families use for potty training, they're this like transitional, it's not quite a diaper, it's not quite underwear. They're very expensive. They are never donated. We never received them in bulk, partially because they're so expensive. And by the time families are using pull ups, like pull ups are not really cute, they're not the little pack of newborn diapers, no one's throwing you a baby shower when you have a three and a half year old who refuses to wear underwear at night, that's all done, right? So you were just paying for these out of pocket, being taxed. They're very expensive. And we want people to understand that need persists beyond little babies, and that families really need support during that time. 

Matt Peiken: Good to know. Is there anything else that we, you want to talk about or add? 

Meagan Lyon Leimena: Diapers, we consider them essential infrastructure for functioning families. And we say that because you need to provide diapers up front to access child care.

Most child care or daycare facilities will say that you need about a day's worth of diapers. And so for newborns, they can go through 12 plus diapers a day. Older children are going to go through six to eight diapers a day. If you want your child to go to child care so that they are in a safe, educational caring place so that you can go off and work or go to school or do whatever your human existence desires or requires, you need to have diapers.

I have met with social workers in parking lots to hand over packs of diapers early in the morning so that they can go meet somebody who was denied access to child care, who shows up with their kiddo to drop them off and child care says, You don't have any diapers here. We cannot let you in.

And that is not to demonize child care because They are wonderful places full of wonderful people who don't have enough resources. And we actually get so much of the information about what's happening on the ground with families through our child care partners. So they help us really understand a lot of the unique struggles that families are going through, but if you care about child care, if you care about parents working, especially women and moms having the ability to work or go to school, having diapers are essential.

Matt Peiken: This sounds like a day to day challenge for some people. Like even if, okay, my needs are met today or I've got a few days worth now, i was given 30 diapers this will take me through three four days and then It's a constant search, a constant hunt, right? 

Meagan Lyon Leimena: Yes, We describe diaper need as both acute and chronic And what we hear from families and this is reflected in national data as well Is that this is deeply stressful that mothers in particular worry more about accessing diapers than they do about accessing shelter or food Because there are other solutions, right?

You can keep looking till you find somewhere where you can stay potentially, or you can stay in your car. Mothers report all the time that they don't eat, or they eat less, so that they can feed their children. And, we can naturally assume that extends to fathers in large part as well.

Diapers, it's not the same thing. Like mom can't just say, I won't eat dinner and I'll feed you. When you need a diaper, you need a diaper. Or if, because you are not able to change your child's diaper and they have persistent diaper rash or infections and you need to be changing it really frequently and you need wipes and you need rash cream, there are not good substitutes for that.

Matt Peiken: Yeah and you provide more than just diapers. You talk about wipes and other things as well. 

Alicia Heacock: Yeah so we started as a diaper bank and we now are kind of a diaper bank plus.

So we focus primarily on diapers, wipes, and rash cream, but because we have this access to a national network that's providing in kind donations from corporate partners, we are sometimes, not always, able to also provide things like Meagan mentioned earlier, like infant formula. When the formula crisis hit, there was no one else in the region who was able to obtain formula because you just couldn't buy it.

So we had funding partners who were willing to give us money to purchase formula, but there wasn't any available. But through our relationships with Baby to Baby, they were able to send us a whole pallet of formula. So we also provide things like baby wash when we have them, underwear. Our partners are always asking for underwear, especially when they're serving children who are in that potty training period, because you can't really use underwear secondhand. It doesn't really make it through that process very cleanly and very nicely. Yeah. Things like socks, pajamas, swimsuits, we've had, oh, bars of soap. 

Matt Peiken: You're really adding to your menu of things that you're offering. I'm wondering, is this by design? Let's close by talking about the growth and where you see and want Babies Need Bottoms to grow.

And it seems like the need could be endless and the, Oh swimsuits leads to this, and this leads to that. And bars of soap. Where do you say we, this is not our purview? Where do you close that circle? 

Alicia Heacock: This growth that we have experienced has been so tremendous and so eye opening, but we really feel strongly that it needs to be sustainable because this is a need that is not going to go away in the community. And we are the ones that are here. We are the ones that are making a difference. And so we want to make sure that we are building the foundation of this organization so that it can continue to meet these basic needs that are essential to our mission.

And so diapers and diapering supplies is where we draw a hard line with what we are purchasing when we have donations. So as long as we have space in our warehouse to accept in kind donations, and it's An item that is considered a basic need for families, and we know that the families that we serve are going to benefit from that, we want to be able to say yes. 

Now that does come with limitations, right? Because our warehouse is only as big as it is, even though we've grown, our staff time is only as big as it is. But as we are growing, we are really focused on that sustainability piece and making sure that we are seeing true to our mission. 

Meagan Lyon Leimena: We also want to stay connected to the community in terms of understanding need. At our core, we are relational in that the relationships that we have among our staff and our board and our partners are paramount to us and We always want to be embedded within the community Listening deeply, making sure we are hearing what people say.

And so if a partner comes to us and says, at the shelter, our kids need socks and we have the option to bring in socks, we're going to say yes. And we consider the work that we're doing this is how we care for our community. This is how we, as individuals, I'm speaking for Alicia now, right?

These two moms in the community, like this is how we care for other moms and other children. And we do it in community. I say that very much not to be hierarchical and we try very hard not to be gatekeepers of resources. Like anything that comes in and we have access to, we want it to be given out freely to those who need it.

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