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IN DEMAND: Jill Bright’s Diaper Bank of the Ozarks is on track to donate 550,000 diapers this year.
IN DEMAND: Jill Bright’s Diaper Bank of the Ozarks is on track to donate 550,000 diapers this year.

Business Spotlight: Diaper Doozies

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The Diaper Bank of the Ozarks is Jill Bright’s baby.

After all she founded the diaper distribution service four years ago and still volunteers 50 hours a week to keep it going.

And there are many moving, and growing, parts: The Diaper Bank gave away 400,000 diapers last year and it’s on pace to distribute over 550,000 diapers this year, Bright says.

“We are the storehouse, and we give diapers out to other agencies and they give them to the public,” Bright says.

In June, distribution out of the Diaper Bank reached a record monthly high of 65,000 diapers. Bright started out delivering 5,000 diapers a month to about a half-dozen agencies.

Today, Diaper Bank serves 40 agencies in Greene County and another 20 agencies in 22 rural counties. It’s led by a 12-member board of directors, and the annual budget is up to $175,000.

The increasing numbers tell of a great problem, Bright says. Such diaper needs mean more families are unable to adequately provide for their babies.

“That arises because there are no government programs that assist with the purchase of diapers,” she says. “Food stamps and WIC are only for food.”

Diaper needs
Bright didn’t know southwest Missouri had a diaper need until she attended a 2012 conference put on by Newborns in Need Inc. She was a board member and volunteer for the group at the time, and upon returning home from St. Louis, Bright immediately put the new concept to work.

First, she assembled a few board members. Then Bright, a registered nurse by trade, connected with the only diaper bank in Missouri she knew of: HappyBottoms in Kansas City.

“They became our mentor,” she says.

Next up was knocking on doors of the service agencies that already worked with individuals in need and that had transportation routes in place.

The main partner agency is the Crosslines food pantry, where a fourth of the diapers are distributed. Crosslines also donates 5,000 square feet of warehouse and office space in its 615 N. Glenstone Ave. building.

Bright’s discovered diapers are big business. It costs $1,000 a year to cover each baby bottom in America with disposable diapers, according to national estimates. The global baby diaper industry is projected to top $64 billion in sales by 2022, according to Grand View Research Inc. Two years ago, it was at $40 billion.

Poverty situations make fresh diapers a luxury rather than a necessity.

“A lot of our families are making the choice between diapers or food,” Bright says.

The Diaper Bank also works with Pregnancy Care Center, Harmony House, LifeHouse Crisis Maternity Home and Lutheran Family and Children’s Services.

Bank on it
The bulk of diapers – some 300,000 a year – comes into the Diaper Bank as a member of the National Diaper Bank Network. Bright’s organization only pays $6,000, a transportation charge for the 53-foot truck.

She says about $65,000 of the annual budget is from cash gifts, while the larger remainder comes from grants and in-kind donations, such as the annual drive by CoxHealth that nets some 25,000 diapers, according to hospital officials. The last three years, the Diaper Bank has tapped into annual grants from the Darr Family Foundation, totaling nearly $10,000.

“We have a sensitivity to younger members of our community and those in tough circumstances,” says foundation President Tom Slaight. “That is the clientele of the diaper bank.”

Slaight says the Darr Family Foundation receives up to 100 requests between two grant cycles, and its grant review committee approves about half. Last year, the foundation issued $177,000 in grants, and the budget this fiscal year is $200,000. He says the next application deadline is Sept. 15.

Mission alignment is key in those decisions, he says, and the Diaper Bank has proven its worth to the foundation.

“Next to food and shelter, a dry diaper on that baby is an important commodity to have,” he says.

“It’s an assistance to families looking to raise healthy children and not allow that diaper shortage to create a crisis.”

Last year, the Diaper Bank also received $3,000 from Musgrave Foundation, as well as $10,000 from Commerce Trust Co. through Community Foundation of the Ozarks to create disposable and cloth diaper banks in rural communities.

The Diaper Bank also runs a cloth diaper loan program and a day care program for working parents to meet diaper requirements.

“Most day care facilities don’t provide diapers,” Slaight says, noting they require parents leave at least four diapers a day.

That means parents might let wet diapers go unchanged the night before in order to have enough the next day.

“They make a decision to let the child suffer the rest of the night,” Slaight says. “We have come to see it as a fundamental assistance for those people. We think it’s a child welfare issue to some degree. You don’t have to stretch too far in your thinking for that couple to erupt into an argument about diapers and they’re one step away from somebody slapping somebody and asking, ‘What happened here?’”

Bright and the 12-member board brought on the Diaper Bank’s first paid staff member earlier this year. Originally funded by a four-month grant, the work of Development Specialist Jessica Guccione is now paying for the position.

“She brings in the money,” Bright says.

The board’s goal is to convert the director role into a paid position within two years.

“I’m close to retirement. I’ll continue to volunteer,” Bright says. “We didn’t need to hire at this point a paid executive director, but the area of development was one we needed to make stronger.”

The duo are tasked with creating buzz around the Diaper Bank’s annual fundraiser in the middle of Diaper Need Awareness Week, Sept. 26-Oct. 2. The Girls in Pearls gala Sept. 30 at Hotel Vandivort has a $10,000 goal.

“I know that’s not a lot, but we’re still a small group,” Bright says.

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