When Marit Molin, founder of Hamptons Community Outreach, organized a campaign around the holidays to provide gifts for families in need, there were several repeated requests. Parents were sending in letters asking for toys for their children, and in some instances, were hoping for help with paying a bill.
But Ms. Molin specifically remembers one request that came from a single mother of two children under the age of 2.
“Instead of asking for presents for kids, she was asking for diapers,” Ms. Molin said. “It made me sad, that someone had to choose between Christmas presents and diapers.”
It was upsetting, but not surprising, because it was a request Ms. Molin has been hearing over and over. In the year since the pandemic descended upon the country, Ms. Molin expanded the organization she started in 2018 as Hamptons Art Camp — which provided underserved youth in the area with a summer camp experience — to become a more all-encompassing program helping families in need, providing food and other necessities. The organization focuses on four key areas: mental health outreach, crisis outreach, child-centered outreach, and food outreach. But with the frequency of requests for diapers, Ms. Molin, a social worker, knew her organization could do more in that area.
She said she was lucky enough to have secured the volunteer services of Southampton resident Amanda Race, an experienced grant writer who was willing to dive deeper and find a solution.
“With Amanda, you share an idea and she just picks it up and does incredible work,” Ms. Molin said.
In her work researching diaper grants, Ms. Race discovered that not only was there no established diaper bank on the East End of Long Island, but there was not one in all of Suffolk County, leaving families in desperate need of diapers with nowhere to turn, and forcing them to make untenable choices. Food insecurity is an obvious crisis that needs to be addressed, particularly in challenging economic times like those brought on by the coronavirus. But difficulty in sourcing diapers can have ripple effects that may not be as glaringly obvious as food shortages, but can be just as devastating for a family and its financial survival.
Ms. Race explained how a lack of diapers can impact a family financially.
“It you don’t have an adequate diaper supply, you can’t leave a child in day care, and then it becomes impossible for one parent to work,” she said.
Child care centers expect parents to supply diapers for their children, and in a normal year, may be able to pick up the cost of one or two families who cannot afford them. But in a year when more families than usual are unable to afford diapers, it is not possible for the day care centers to make up the difference.
“I’ve heard anecdotally about local child care centers that opened a lot earlier than some other school facilities [after the initial lockdown], and they’ve run out of their own stockpile that they had on hand,” Ms. Race said. “One possibility is us being a backup source for them.”
Solving the diaper shortage has so far been a team effort between Hamptons Community Outreach and several school districts. Members of the Key Club at Southampton High School and the National Honor Society at both East Hampton and Pierson High School, as well as students from both the Hayground School in Bridgehampton and the Avenues School in East Hampton have gotten into the act, soliciting donations from the community to help build up a stockpile of diapers for distribution to families in need. In Sag Harbor, there are drop boxes for diaper donations at the learning center, elementary school and middle/high school, as well as at John Jermain Library. There are drop-off locations at Southampton High School, Hayground and Avenues as well, and at area churches and the Children’s Museum of the East End in Bridgehampton.
Involving schools made sense, Ms. Race explained, because the virus has created challenges for honor societies and other clubs looking for opportunities to fulfill community service requirements in a safe way. With multiple schools taking on the project, and making it an ongoing donation drive, Ms. Race said she is hoping they will build up enough of a stockpile to make them eligible for grants, with the ultimate goal of establishing an official diaper bank on the East End, which would allow them to become part of a nationwide distribution network and receive donations from big-name diaper companies like Pampers, Huggies and Luvs, which would guarantee a long-term, sustainable supply.
Giving the community a reliable source for diapers is especially crucial for an area like the East End, Ms. Race explained.
“When you think about the resort economy out here, if you’re not in a position to drive to Target or the big stores and buy huge boxes, whether because of a time deficit or cash flow, you end up buying in smaller quantities with local markups and paying 20 percent more to accommodate the convenience you need,” she said. “There is no lower cost option out here.”
Another key part of the program has been the involvement of Hamptons Coffee Company. Owner Jason Belkin has donated the use of his vehicles, and has helped pick up diaper donations from various drop-off locations and take them to a warehouse in Southampton that Hamptons Community Outreach uses for its operations. The diapers are typically distributed when HCO does food deliveries.
The energy and enthusiasm of the students from the different schools has been impressive, both Ms. Molin and Ms. Race said. Cameron Kieffer is a 12-year-old sixth grader at Avenues who recently moved to the area from New York City. She was looking for a way to get involved in giving back to the community, she said, and the diaper drive has been a great way to direct her energies.
“Seeing little kids suffering is so sad, and I don’t think any kid should have to worry about basic needs,” she said. “Everyone deserves to have an amazing childhood.”
Cameron said she is creating a flyer about the diaper drive to drum up more support, and said she’s called on family and friends to continue donating. She added that she’s hoping to keep the momentum going in other ways as well.
“We want to have a big thermometer or something that looks like a diaper that shows how many we’ve collected so it encourages people to keep donating and really shows how many we need,” she said.
Jill Stellato, the Honor Society advisor at Pierson, said she jumped at the opportunity to have her students involved in the effort, and hopes it is the start of something that the community can consistently rely on.
“A few years back, my National Honor Society students raised funds to donate to the Texas Diaper Bank when that region was devastated by hurricanes,” she said. “So, the opportunity to help a similar cause right in our own community felt like a win for everybody.”