Waukegan nonprofit helps families with diaper needs
Waukegan Mayor Ann Taylor greeted volunteers and toured the Waukegan warehouse where infant, toddler and adult diapers, period supplies, infant formula, children's books, car seats, winter coats and more await distribution to the hundreds of families served by Keeping Families Covered.
"I am super impressed," said Taylor, who on Sept. 20, along with the Waukegan City Council, proclaimed Sept. 27 to Oct. 3 Diaper Need Awareness Week in the city.
"I knew you offered the diapers, but I didn't realize you had clothing and these other offerings as well."
The nonprofit organization that Ann Marie Mathis started 11 years ago in her basement to provide moms in need with gently used equipment and clothing has indeed come a long way. Today, diapers, pullups and more are stacked roughly two stories high at her North Oak Grove Avenue facility. The organization serves 1,200 families and 1,800 children a month and is on pace to distribute 1.5 million diapers this year.
The National Diaper Bank Network, of which Keeping Families Covered has been a member since 2014, estimates one in three families faces diaper need. That is, they cannot afford enough diapers to keep their babies' bottoms clean, dry and healthy.
The domino effect can include increased difficulty for parents to find and keep work, as day care centers will not take babies without an adequate supply of diapers for the day.
"The more I learned about diaper need, the more I was determined to do everything I can to meet it," said Mathis, herself a mother of seven children ranging in age from 3-12.
With the help of a core group of volunteers, Keeping Families Covered operates monthly mobile diaper pantries in Gurnee, Grayslake, Waukegan, Round Lake Park and Kenosha, Wisconsin, and weekly distributions in Highwood.
The agency recently joined forces with six other like-minded Illinois nonprofits to form an advocacy coalition to bring increased awareness to unmet diaper need.
"Many people do not realize that programs like WIC (the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children) and other government safety nets do not cover diapers," Mathis said. "And efforts to reduce the Illinois tax rate for diapers have not yet been successful, either.
"Unmet diaper need is a significant source of stress for parents, especially those who are struggling to make ends meet," she said. "On average, diapers cost $70 to $80 per month, per child. For families living in poverty, that is about 14 percent of their monthly income. These families need help, and we are here for them."
As she walked through the Keeping Families Covered office and warehouse space, Taylor said she was amazed by the size, scope and efficiency of the operation. The need, she said, is certainly critical.
"All of these items are so expensive," Taylor said. "They say you can diaper one child for $70 to $80 a month, but I think that is a conservative estimate."
And even that amount breaks the bank for thousands of families, Mathis added.
"Many parents are faced with choosing between groceries and diapers," she said. "It's a vicious cycle."
In the diaper packing room during the tour, five volunteers stuffed packages with 25 diapers each, carefully labeling them by size and readying them for distribution.
"One thing I'd say about this place is they make it so easy to volunteer," said Gurnee resident Bryan Pearson, who was there with his wife, Sandy. "It's so well-organized."
Mathis said those interested in volunteering have numerous ways to do so. Thursday night "Wrappy Hours," neighborhood diaper drives and Saturday service days are just a few examples, with more opportunities listed under the "Lend a Hand!" tab at keepingfamiliescovered.org.
A new Changing Table Sponsorship program also has been launched, with cash donation options ranging from $500 to $5,000 and perks ranging from social media announcements to company name and logo featured on the organization's 16-foot trailer and box truck.
Mathis said her agency's partnership with the National Diaper Bank Network allows Keeping Families Covered to purchase diapers in bulk at a steep discount, so every dollar donated is significantly stretched.
Additional sponsorship details are available at keepingfamiliescovered.org.
Taylor said she wishes Mathis and her team continued success in achieving their goals, including advocating for reductions in sales taxes on items like diapers and period supplies.
"What you are doing is really, really important," the mayor said. "I'm so impressed."
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