One of the youngest of the flock at First Parish Congregational Church, Eliam St. Ward, the son of Natalie and Zach St. Ward, shown here in the arms of his mother, stopped by for Diaper Day on a recent Wednesday to say hello to organizers Cathy Baillargeon, Jan Hryniewicz, Pamela Mohlin and Nadine Russell. The group provides diapers to families who need them. Tammy Wells Photo

SACO — Pam Mohlin remembers talking with a friend, a retired social worker, when she was conducting research into starting a diaper bank at First Parish Congregational Church, UCC.

“Low-income moms always know how many clean diapers they have,” her friend said.

With that in mind, on Wednesdays, from 4 to 7 p.m., those entering the big church at the intersection of Main and Beach streets in Saco will see Mohlin and other volunteers — Cathy Baillargeon, Nadine Russell and Jan Hryniewicz — behind a table set up in the lobby sporting diapers, packaged per size.

Each area mom in need who comes through the side door of the church (the door that opens into the parking lot) receives 40 diapers. If there is another child wearing diapers in the family,  another 40 is supplied, said Mohlin.

Newborns require up to a dozen diapers a day, older children use less.

Courtesy image

The goal is to assist infants and toddlers in low-income families by providing a portion of the diapers they need each week – helping to keep the little ones fresh and dry.

Diapers, Mohlin said, can cost as much as $100 per month. And while there are programs that help families who have few resources, diapers generally aren’t a covered commodity.

Jennifer Viger of the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children, known as WIC, at York County Community Action Corporation, said diapers can be expensive for some families, and she noted neither WIC, which concentrates on nutrition benefits for mothers and their children, or the SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as food stamps) program allow diaper purchases.

“Some of our clients do have difficulty purchasing them on their own,” said Viger. “Having this diaper bank is a great resource.”

According to a December Portland Press Herald story, Temporary Assistance to Needy Families, known as TANF, allows the purchase of diapers, but doing so would use about 16 percent of the monthly benefit.

Mohlin said she didn’t know about diaper banks until she listened to a story on National Public Radio one morning and heard the president of a Texas diaper bank talking about the need.

“I said ‘we should be doing that here,'” she recalled.

She did some research and found a couple of diaper banks in Maine, the Michael Klahr Jewish Family Services Diaper Bank in Portland, and another, on the Midcoast.

The Ecumenical Diaper Bank in central Lincoln County was established in 2015, according to Sue Rockwood, who said eight churches participate in that Midcoast endeavor. In 2019, the bank handed out nearly 11,000 diapers in three Lincoln County locations, she said.

“Babies without diapers can’t go to daycare, and infants can’t attend preschool,” said Rockwood.

She and the volunteers in Saco point out that inadequate diaper supplies can result in discomfort and health issues for babies and young children.

In December, Karli Efron who runs the Michael Klahr Jewish Family Services Diaper Bank, told the Portland Press Herald the agency distributed 500,000 diapers in nine months, a sharp increase from the nearly 300,000 it typically hands out each year. Efron said the need skyrocketed since the onset of COVID-19.

According to the National Diaper Bank Network, 1 in 3 families in the United States report experiencing the need for diapers.

At First Parish Congregational Church, seed money was provided for first purchases by the pastor’s discretionary fund, and there’s a Dad’s Diaper Day set for Father’s Day, June 20. Those who would like to contribute may send a check to the church at 12 Beach St., Saco, ME 04072, and mention the diaper bank and pastor’s discretionary fund.

The women’s fellowship group at the church has made donations that help purchase feminine hygiene products, which are also offered during the Wednesday diaper hours.

So far, the turnout has been modest – and the volunteers aren’t sure whether transportation might be an issue for some families. But they’re getting the word out that at First Parish, Wednesday is diaper day.

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