A few months ago, the Hmong American Women’s Association received a donated box of diapers for its community closet. The group, also known as HAWA, divided the diapers into packs of five. By the end of the week, they were gone.
“We started noticing more parents and women that have kids or take care of kids showing up,” Leana Yang, the outreach and education director, said. “And their high demand was, ‘Are you all going to get more diapers? Are you all going to get more wipes?’”
Yang knew that the group needed to find a sustainable answer to the community’s needs. Through conversations, Yang learned about the Milwaukee Diaper Mission, a nonprofit diaper bank aimed at providing low-income individuals with diapers, menstrual products, wipes and more.
After connecting with Meagan Johnson, the co-founder and executive director of Milwaukee Diaper Mission, HAWA became an official distribution partner in July.
Seeing a need, filling a need
Johnson didn’t plan on starting a nonprofit. Initially, she was looking to educate low-income families on the benefits of cloth diapering.
When she struggled to find a local diaper bank, she reached out to the National Diaper Bank Network, which encouraged her to start her own.
Johnson, alongside her cousin Jessica Syburg, co-founded the Milwaukee Diaper Mission in September 2020. By October, the group had a space, 2612 S. Greeley St., Suite 222, and by November, it was distributing to local organizations.
Syburg initially served as vice president for several months and now works as a volunteer.
As of August, the group has distributed over 140,000 diapers and over 80,000 menstrual products.
While Milwaukee Diaper Mission is a part of the National Diaper Bank Network, other groups such as United Way, the Care Net Pregnancy Center of Milwaukee and the African American Breastfeeding Network offer diaper products to individuals.
IMPACT 2-1-1 received 212 calls for diaper-related requests from January 2020 to June 2020. This year, it received 107 diaper-related calls during that same time period. The organization referred individuals to agencies such as House of Peace, the Alpha Women’s Center, Women’s Support Center of Milwaukee and more.
Dalvery Blackwell, the co-founder of the African American Breastfeeding Network, explained that part of the organization’s funding is unrestricted and can be used to purchase items such as diapers, breastfeeding supplies and more.
When a pregnant woman comes to a class, she is automatically enrolled in the program, Blackwell said. The network provides clients with a doula, breast pumps, diapers and more, free of charge.
“As long as they’re breastfeeding then they have a need for our services,” she said.
The group makes daily deliveries to clients and plans to set up a pickup system.
"Dignity of choice"
The Milwaukee Diaper Mission offers both disposable and reusable diaper options to its partners.
“We do disposable and reusable,” Johnson said. “Dignity of choice is really important to our organization. We want to make sure that families have the option to choose what products they use on their body, on their baby’s body and so we offer as much as we possibly can to them.”
Johnson became interested in cloth diapers while pregnant with her first child.
“I’ve always been environmentally conscious, and it seemed natural to focus on learning about cloth diapers and trying them with my baby,” she said. “It’s also a great cost savings. That was an added benefit that I hadn’t even thought of either as someone who had never purchased diapers before I had no idea how expensive they were on a monthly basis.”
According to the National Diaper Bank Network, in 2018, the average monthly cost of diapers for one child was about $80. Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, a federal assistance program, can help families cover the cost of diapers, but that money is also used to help cover bills, rent, clothing, transportation and more.
While the initial cost can range, the average startup cost of cloth diapers is about $150 not including the cost of water and detergent, Johnson said.
The group relies on in-kind and monetary donations and volunteers. The group received $20,000 in CARES Act funding, which it used to spend on inventory. She noted that the group is always in need of size six diapers, wipes and menstrual pads.
“Diaper banks are powered by diapers, dollars and doers,” Johnson said. “Those three things were all hard to come by during the pandemic. As a small organization just getting off the ground, that was probably our biggest struggle.”
Packages of diapers and wipes are distributed monthly to various partners such as HAWA, Metcalfe Park Community Bridges, Next Door Milwaukee and Maroon Calabash. Occasionally, the group does postpartum care kits and has plans to create menopause care packages.
“It’s a passion of our organization to support people in this season of life,” Johnson said.
How to help
Information on drop spots, acceptable donations and more can be found here.