Submitted to Jennifer Labit on September 4, 2014
More than two years ago, I read a weekly email from Jennifer Labit seeking volunteers to host cloth diaper banks. With a strong cloth diapering community in Huntsville, Alabama, I knew this concept would be a hit locally. I applied, and a few short months later our host site was up and running. With the support of cloth diapering families in the area, we have collected and distributed cloth diapers to 20 families in the past year. Diapers are ready and available when applicants apply. So far, I have not had to turn away anyone due to a lack of diapers.
Recently I heard about a neighborhood thrift store that specializes in maternity and baby products. I decided to go visit this store to ask if I could leave information about Share the Love for their customers. I noticed that they had a sign up advertising parenting classes. I offered to teach a cloth diapering class. The shopkeepers took my fliers but stated that their customers couldn’t afford cloth diapers; therefore, they were not interested in a class. I simply stated that cloth diapers could be a very economical choice. They said if their customers showed any interest in cloth, they’d be ok with a class but they were skeptical. I promised that I would be back soon with more information regarding the economical advantages of cloth diapering.
This first visit led to stopping in once a week with a donation to the store or to buy something useful. On my second visit I noticed something I had missed the first time I was in the store. In a corner were packages of disposable diapers open with a sign above them stating the price PER DIAPER. Parents visit this store to get diapers with whatever spare change they may have. Families shopping here come in and buy a diaper or two diapers at a time. I even witnessed this twice. At this point I felt a huge rush of emotions.
I knew immediately that each time I paid a visit to this store, I needed to provide a little more information so the staff and eventually their customers (families) could learn about free and affordable cloth diapering options. On that particular visit, I left more fliers and my card, paid for my purchases and left, stating I’d see them again soon. All I could think of was a blog post I had read years ago penned by Jennifer Labit about disposable diapers being hung to dry and reused. Someone buying one or two diapers at a time may resort to such measures when necessary.
In just a few short weeks of visiting the store, the small talk exchanges are creating a relationship. One week I asked how much flannel receiving blankets cost. That led to a conversation about how flannel blankets make GREAT diapers for children who are heavy wetters. For the same price as two or three paper diapers, families can purchase a receiving blanket which can be washed and used daily.
The following week I shared that I had attended a conference over the weekend and listened to a cloth diapering guru who shared with us that 100% cotton T-shirts would also be quite absorbent as a diaper.
Most recently, I took an assorted bag of diapers in with me that I use for educational purposes, mostly from my own stash or that I have acquired for the purpose of teaching. I shared with the shop manager a few types of inexpensive cloth diapers that are easy to access and implement. She came from around the counter, hugged me, and thanked me for taking the time to come in. She shared that seeing the diapers was really helpful, and she recalls receiving some items like the ones I shared in the past. I also left printed information from popular websites regarding economical options for cloth diapering.
Some of the things I have shared with the shopkeepers are things I have learned directly from links or simply from other local cloth diapering moms. I am looking forward to receiving my first application from this outreach, and I do feel that in time enough interest will warrant holding cloth diapering classes at this store. I will continue sharing tidbits of information about cloth diapering each week that will hopefully benefit the families who shop at this store frequently.
As a cloth diapering enthusiast with an average income who used mainly pocket diapers, I may not be personally well versed in the challenges that the families depending on the individual diaper sales face. I have read many blogs on the topic, and I have researched thoroughly, but that is not the same as living it. After starting as a host for Share the Love, many friends opened up and shared their personal financial struggles and how they started in cloth. One friend started cloth for two children with a budget of less than $50. She knows how to diaper a baby without spending much money, and she’s been generous enough to talk to other families, attend events, and even visit this store to share her personal testimony. She and I both acknowledge that she will easily be able to relate to struggling families trying to find a way to buy cloth, perhaps at a level that I cannot. She is willing to teach classes at this store, and I couldn’t be more excited to have her help!
Challenges facing these families in addition to poverty can include the absence of a washing machine, a lack of working plumbing, little to no access to educational resources such as the internet and classes for learning about cloth. Most of these challenges can be overcome by placing resources in this store to learn about cloth, various methods for washing diapers, and information about programs such as Share the Love that can help get a stash of cloth started.
As our host site gears up to attend a community wide diaper drive for local charities this coming weekend, I am dispelling myths about cloth diapering to community leaders and business owners. These well-meaning organizers do not want to encourage cloth diaper donations. They feel cloth diapers are only for wealthy or middle-income status stay-at-home mom types who have plenty of time to fold laundry. Knowing that this common stereotype is false, I am sharing information with them to change this misconception. They assume that families in poverty do not have access to washing machines, and cannot cloth diaper. Many living in poverty do have access to washing machines.
One friend who doesn’t have a washing machine and uses cloth manages to wash diapers in the bathtub for two children. I have friends who CHOSE to hand wash diapers even though they have washing machines. They feel it is easier and often faster than using a machine. Many families have washing machines and cloth diapers but lack money for disposable diapers and gas to make treks to the store to restock. The value of cloth diapers are grossly underestimated. Moms stay at home out of necessity, as staying at home is more cost effective than putting children into childcare and working at jobs with low wages. I personally understand the choice to stay home versus work. I am a teacher, and even with a job that requires a degree and pays a salary, my family found it more economically feasible for me to stay home.
With twenty families and children served in the past year, I have found no two situations have been alike. The need for diapers was met in a variety of ways, although from the outside it may all look the same. Assumptions about cloth diapering and access to amenities most likely do not apply to every individual situation.
I have witnessed first hand how cloth diapers can be an economical solution to diapering children regardless of income, parent employment status, and the presence of a washing machine. Cloth diapering can save families money that would otherwise go to disposables. This frees up funds to go toward other necessities such as food, clothing, and shelter each week. If you are a cloth diapering family, share your experience when the opportunity presents. Assumptions about cloth diapers are often made, even by community leaders trying to lend a hand to those in need. Please do your homework. Research the topic. Ask a cloth diapering family why they prefer cloth diapers. The answers may not be what you would expect.
Sarah is a volunteer Share the Love Host in Huntsville, Alabama, accepting cloth diaper donations at A Nurturing Moment. Sarah also owns a babywearing boutique called Happy Papoose. Getting a little more crunchy everyday while raising her own two children, Sarah has been an advocate for families and young children for nearly two decades in a variety of capacities.