The newest bank in Lake County doesn't lend money but its unique service can lighten the load on cash strapped families.
Cartons stacked on row after row of pallets in a donated warehouse near the Wauconda Township office contain the "currency" of the Diaper Bank Partnership of Lake County, a coordinated effort to help those struggling to pay for a basic need.
More than a dozen organizations in Cuba and Wauconda townships and parts of the Lake Zurich area are on the ground floor of the evolving effort, which is part of the National Diaper Bank Network. The first distribution is scheduled for Feb. 6.
The bank was seeded with a donation of 201,000 diapers -- more than five semitrailer trucks worth -- from Kimberly-Clark Corporation.
Organizers say the goal is to provide a basic commodity for children and adults that can cost $100 a month or more but isn't covered by traditional aid programs, such as food stamps, public aid or Link, or is reimbursable through insurance or Medicare for adults over 65.
Dirty diapers can pose health problems from skin disease to infections, such as hepatitis.
Churches and food pantries have recognized a need, according to Suzanne "Sam" Martinez, chaplain at Advocate Good Shepherd Hospital in Barrington, which is part of the effort and has 200 congregations in its coverage area.
"The need was so great that women were deciding whether to feed their children or buy diapers," she said.
Some food pantries ask patrons to donate diapers and sometimes will buy them if needed. But there is never enough, as one in three families struggle to provide clean, dry diapers for their children, according to the national group.
"There is an awareness and now accessibility," said the Rev. Jim Swarthout, who pioneered the idea in the suburbs about three years ago while Rector at St. Paul Episcopal Church in McHenry.
He was working the food pantry there when a client came in with a baby. As Swarthout held the child, he noticed it was bottom heavy.
"The baby had a dipperful. She (the mom) said, `Father Jim, I can only afford two diapers a day. I clean it and put it back on her.'"
Swarthout said that encounter led him to start the diaper program that now serves hundreds of families a month. Advocate worked with Swarthout in McHenry and is helping to duplicate it in Lake County.
"There are a lot of moms with little kids and diapers are expensive. It's that simple and there is an urgent need," said Joe Besenjak, executive director of Love, Inc., Lake County Southwest, which is part of the consortium.
Those who need diapers will apply with staff senior advocates or general assistance workers at the individual agencies.
The need will be tallied and once a month, an order faxed to Wauconda Township, where agencies will pick up the orders for later distribution.
"The idea is to connect with all the service providers in the area," Martinez said. "Our goal is to ensure we have enough supply to meet demand. We'll be developing a strategy to have (diaper) collections throughout the year."
That will be necessary because the program strives to be self-sufficient once the initial donation is gone -- what Swarthout called a "seed not feed" practice.
"We want to teach how to develop sustainability on the local level," said Swarthout, who now is the executive director of Barrington-based Samaritan Interfaith Counseling Center of the Northwest Suburbs and also secretary for the national group.
Huggies brand diapers was a founding sponsor for the National Diaper Bank Network, a nonprofit organization, which last fall distributed 12 million diapers during its "12 Days of Thanks" cross country tour.
"Our role, basically, is to help start diaper banks across the country," Swarthout said.