CEDAR RAPIDS — Because of the economic hardship faced by many this year, one local nonprofit providing for some of the area’s littlest residents saw its biggest growth to date.
The Eastern Iowa Diaper Bank has donated more than 615,000 diapers to local families in need in the past year — roughly six times its previous donation record.
“I don’t think any of us would have guessed that we would have been able to do it through 2020, and the only reason we’ve been able to do it is because community support,” said Erin Langdon, chief development officer at Eastern Iowa Health Center and organizer of the Diaper Bank.
Langdon estimated the bank donated about 150,000 diapers last year.
The organization was created through a partnership with YPN, the young family support network, and the Eastern Iowa Health Center, the Cedar Rapids-based federally qualified health center. The organization was started to aid some of the lowest income families in the community — families officials estimate can spend up to 14 percent of their paycheck on diapers alone.
Clients with either of those organizations could enroll in the program to earn free diapers for their babies and toddlers throughout the year by completing well-check visits, finishing a YPN program or participating in other services offered by these nonprofits.
But for the first time this year, the Diaper Bank did not limit its donations to program participants and opened its doors to any member of the community in need, thus hugely increasing the client base.
“We saw the need was out there, and we saw the community was willing to help,” said Alejandro Pino, YPN executive director and Diaper Bank organizer.
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Some other not-for-profits have struggled this year as fewer people donated. But Pino said this effort has been “really fortunate” to have seen an increase in new donors, helping it meet the increase in need.
Organizers opted to open the bank up to community members in March, when the coronavirus pandemic first reached Iowa and the beginning of the economic downturn was starting to affect thousands in Eastern Iowa. They opened a drive-through at its downtown Cedar Rapids location.
Langdon said organizers were planning to return to its client-only model by the end of the summer. But then the Aug. 10 derecho hit.
“It’s been really interesting to see who’s come through the bank,” Langdon said. “We’ve seen all walks of life. We see typical participants who are struggling, but also people who have been furloughed or have lost their jobs due to the pandemic. And this is a really essential need for every baby and toddler.”
Langdon said the Diaper Bank will be returning to its participation model at the beginning of the year to maintain its long-term sustainability.
Until the end of this month, the bank needs more donations to meet the need over the holidays. Currently, the biggest needs are size 5 and 6 diapers and pullups.
The Diaper Bank’s yearly donations have grown exponentially since its inception in 2016, an indication that the need has always been there. The economic hardship brought on to many by the pandemic and the derecho simply “enhanced” that need.
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“I never thought this pet project we started in 2016 would be to this magnitude,” Langdon said.
Pino said organizers expect more clients will enroll in the program through YPN or the Eastern Iowa Health Center, and hope their new donors will return in the upcoming year.
“We continue to adapt our program over the years, and this year will be no different,” Langdon said. “We just look forward to being able to continue to meet the needs and grow as we move forward out of the pandemic, but realizing the needs for children and families don’t go away.”
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