By KERRY MINOR
GLOVERSVILLE – It can be a catch-22 for those involved.
They need a job, but in order to work they need hygiene supplies; to afford them, they need a job.
For parents, work will require child care, but to get that child care, they will need diapers, which they often can’t afford.
Public assistance programs – such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, Medicaid and Women, Infant and Children- do not allow for the purchase of soap, toothpaste, shampoo, feminine hygiene products, diapers or baby wipes.
Several area nonprofits and churches and have stepped up to fill the need, including food banks that give out things like soap and non profits who can connect people to services.
The United Way of Fulton County gives hygiene kits to families and individuals in need and No Bottoms Left Behind of Johnstown helps out families in need of diapers.
Lisa Pfeiffer, executive director of the United Way of Fulton County, estimates the agency sees 12 to 15 families in need each month. Families get connected to the United Way through one of its 14 partner agencies, which include churches, Catholic Charities and the Salvation Army, among others. Families are connected this way to show they have a need. Those in need are then provided with kits that include toothbrushes, toothpaste, deodorant, body wash, shampoo and items for adult men and women, such as razors and feminine hygiene products.
“People are very thankful for those types of items, because food pantries don’t typically have those items in abundance,” Pfeiffer said. “If they do happen to get a case of toothpaste, it goes quick.”
The United Way also runs the Good 360 program that can provide people referred to the agency with sheets, towels and other household goods, ensuring that every family member has their own sheets and towels
And those in need of diapers can find help from the No Bottom Left Behind Diaper Bank in Johnstown.
Pfeiffer said lack of access to hygiene products can be an issue for people who are trying to find work. Since they need items like soap to get and keep a job, getting those items before an interview or the start of work can be helpful for them to get on the right track.
“It’s definitely a necessary thing if someone is on the right track and want to enter the employment world, hygiene is extremely important,” she said. “Their dollars just don’t permit them to purchase toiletries.”
For children, especially, getting hygiene products is very important.
Pfeiffer said hygiene issues can lead to bullying and self-esteem issues.
“Children know when they’re different from other children,” Pfeiffer said. “Being unkempt is something kids are extremely aware of, especially as they approach 9, 10, 11 years old. They see their peers and they know how they’re different and that’s a very internal thing to have that realization.
“I think there is a lot of shame involved if they don’t have the proper things to keep clean. I think school kids have more of an awareness about that, because they’re in close proximity to each other all day long.”
Pfeiffer said that in the past, the United Way has worked with Price Chopper to obtain gift certificates to purchase food or hygiene items.
Victoria Yusko, of No Bottom Left Behind, said diaper insecurity can lead to a host of problems for both parents and children.
“Your baby just wants its diaper changed, but you have no access to diapers, what would you do,” Yusko said. “That is a perfect scenario for what many people face on a daily basis.”
Yusko said the effect diaper shortages have on babies can be equally difficult.
According to a 2012 report from the Journal of Pediatrics, 30 percent of mothers struggle to afford diapers, with 8 percent of the study participants admitting to making their diaper supply last longer by leaving a child in a wet diaper or “cleaning” a used disposable diaper and putting it back on an infant.
“An adequate supply of diapers costs an average of $18 per week, or $936 per year, per child,” the report states. A parent working full time at the state minimum wage of $9.70 an hour, starting Dec. 31, makes $18,720 annually. Thus, the cost of diapers represents more than 5 percent of their gross pay.
That price tag is especially challenging for families who don’t have broadband internet, with its access to good deals, can’t afford online subscription fees for sites such as Amazon Prime, or live far from big-box retailers, who usually have the best diaper deals.
Federal aid programs, such as SNAP and WIC, do not cover the cost of diapers.
Earlier this year, the White House issued a call to action and President Barack Obama challenged online retailers, diaper makers and nonprofits to come up with innovative solutions to the problem.
Cecilia Munoz, an assistant to the president and director of the White House’s Domestic Policy Council, noted in a March briefing that the poorest families with infants use 14 percent of their income for diapers, concurring with the Journal of Pediatrics on its annual estimate of $936. By contrast, many higher-income families pay less than half that amount because they have more access to discounts, and the richest 20 percent of families spent an average of 1 percent of their income on diapers in 2014, according to the Center for Economic and Policy Research.
Those without an adequate supply of diapers encounter health risks. Keeping a wet or messy diaper on longer than it should be can lead to diaper rash, urinary tract infections and a host of other issues.
“There are a lot of things that are associated with sitting in a dirty diaper,” Yusko said.
No Bottom Left Behind started distributing diapers in Sept. 2015 in the Capital Region. It works with agencies such as Things of My Very Own, The Center of Hope and Life Saver Ministries among others.
Nationwide, National Diaper Bank Network members have distributed more than 160 million diapers in 47 states, Washington, D.C. and Guam.
Yusko said that despite preconceived notions that it is only the very poor who have a diaper shortage, middle class and working families also need help affording diapers.
The mission of No Bottom Left Behind is to ensure that every baby has a supply of new, clean diapers. In addition, the non-profit tries to raise awareness of the diaper need in the community.
In Sept. 2016, it distributed 6,150 diapers in the Capital Region, including 2,700 in Gloversville and 900 in Johnstown.
According to the agency one out of every three families struggles to buy diapers.
No Bottom Left Behind’s Facebook page is filled with parents thankful for the help that No Bottom Left Behind has given them, with many stating they feel luck to have such an organization in the area.
She said many families make just enough to pay their bills, but not enough to afford diapers and wipes. She said these families can fall through the cracks. They don’t qualify for programs such as SNAP, WIC or HEAP, putting more strain on their dollars and diapers a potentially unafforable expense.
At No Bottom Left Behind, parents can find both cloth and disposable diapers, along with wipes and other supplies. Yusko said she also plans to begin hosting cloth education classes.
“I’ve given cloth diapers to people when they come in. I say, look, a cloth diaper is better than no diaper,” Yusko said. “You can’t stretch your diapers and your finding yourself without, at least you can fall back on the cloth diapers to get you through a day or two until you can find a resource to get you (disposable) diapers.”
Yusko said that cloth diapers do create some issues for low-income families. She said some laundromats won’t allow cloth diapers to be laundered there.
Yusko said studies have shown that not having enough diapers can cause emotional issues for parents and children.
She said parents can exhibit anxiety, depression, anger and stress.
“It’s very devastating to know as a parent that you can’t provide the basics for your child,” Yusko said.
She said she has also heard of women losing their jobs due to their inability to take their children to daycare because they didn’t have diapers.
For Yusko, struggling to afford diapers isn’t just a charitable interest, but at one point was her reality.
Yusko said that when she was young mother, her sons are now 27 and 22, she struggled as well to afford enough diapers. Although she had a job in Albany, Yusko would have times when diaper supplies ran low because of bills and gas costs.
She even had to call in sick to work on occasion because she couldn’t afford both gas and diapers.
“I was left many times choosing my son without a diaper or, put gas in my vehicle to go to work,” Yusko said in a release.
A little more than a year ago, Yusko said her son came to her looking for money to give to a friend whose child didn’t have diapers.
She said that news brought back to her what she experienced two decades ago. This realization served as somewhat the start of Yusko’s quest to help parents in need.
Yusko said that some parents do come back once they get back on their feet to give back, donating diapers and wipes so another parent can benefit.
Yusko said some parents bring items to donate when they come to get diapers, almost as a way of paying for them. She said donations also come from parents who bought large packages of diapers, only to have their baby grow out of them.
She said she donates these items – formula, clothing and toys – to partner agencies.
Pfeiffer said she has had families come back to meet with her to let her know their doing better.
“There are truly some people who are in a slump and we give them a hand up,” she said.
Kerry Minor can be reached at [email protected]. The Associated Press contributed to this report.