CEDAR RAPIDS — In the two years since the Eastern Iowa Diaper Bank was opened, founders say the organization has grown at a rapid — and somewhat surprising — rate.
But it’s an upward movement that shows organizers they are meeting a local need, and that there’s still plenty of room to grow.
“It’s a snowball effect. It’s growing and growing,” said Joe Lock, president and chief executive officer of the Eastern Iowa Health Center.
Seeing the need among low-income families, leaders expanded on an existing program within YPN and created the diaper bank, which is a member of the National Diaper Bank Network
Tisha Ritter, YPN development coordinator, said before the diaper bank was created, YPN was handing out about 25,000 diapers a year.
This year, the Eastern Iowa Diaper Bank is averaging 13,000 diapers a month, she said.
From January to mid-November of this year, the diaper bank has handed out more than 132,000 diapers to nearly 1,400 unique families, said Erin Langdon, chief development officer for Eastern Iowa Health Center.
In 2017, Langdon said the diaper bank distributed 104,280 diapers in total.
And local interest in the program has grown, officials say.
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“With things like the diaper bank, not only do you see the need, but you also feel the love of the community giving,” YPN Executive Director Alejandro Pino said.
“Especially in Cedar Rapids, this is something that’s been so evident of kind hearts present in the community.”
In 2016, a campaign called Operation Diaper Drive was launched to raise contributions to the diaper bank and brought in more than 102,000 donated diapers.
But the most recent campaign, which concluded in October, surpassed the initial goal and brought in nearly 254,000 diapers in three weeks.
“I never thought we would get over 250,000,” Langdon said. “I was blown away by that.”
According to officials, about 2,000 children age five and under live in poverty in Linn County and no government program, such as the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children, aids in purchasing diapers.
So with a month’s supply of diapers costing between $75 and $125, some local families are left in a tough financial situation.
Alimatu Yoka, a 34-year-old Cedar Rapids resident, heard of the diaper bank through a YPN class for African mothers. Yoka, who immigrated from Congo with her husband four years ago, has three daughters — a six-, three- and an 11-month-old.
Yoka said buying diapers is expensive, but the diaper bank “helps my family.”
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“It helps me to save my money, and then I can come (to YPN) to pay for clothes,” she said.
Parents can collect points to purchase diapers from the diaper bank by participating in healthy behaviors, such as a doctor’s visit at the Eastern Iowa Health Center or a parenting class at YPN.
Some actions, such as getting a job or earning a GED, garner more points than others.
Diaper bank leaders say this growth the past two years shows the need still is apparent.
They hope to continue carrying the momentum forward, Langdon said, “and make more of a communitywide, systemwide impact on diaper need.”
They plan to do so by exploring potential partnerships with other not-for-profit agencies.
“One of the hopes for the future is if we are able to bring on new partner agencies, it will have a multiplier effect and we will continue to grow at an increasing rate,” Lock said.
“There are some diaper banks in the country that give away millions. I don’t know if that’s an attainable in Cedar Rapids, but we’ll see.”
The Eastern Iowa Diaper Bank accepts donations year-round, including open but unused boxes of diapers. Donations can be made at YPN, located at 420 Sixth St SE in Cedar Rapids.
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