When the Wyoming Hunger Initiative team traveled to Lincoln County in February, a set of shelving full of diapers at the Afton Food Pantry caught our eye. While it might not seem obvious until stated out loud, food insecurity is not the only kind of need that families face. Families with infants and toddlers struggling with food insecurity are likely to also face diaper need.
It was an eye-opening moment, because of course they do. Yet, diaper need feels like even more of an invisible issue than food insecurity... until you start having conversations with people who see it regularly.
Have parents in Wyoming missed work because they can't provide their daycare with a sufficient supply of diapers for the day? Yes.
Have parents in Wyoming ever withheld fluids from their infant or toddler before the work day to reduce the amount of diapers their children might need? It has happened.
Have parents in Wyoming ever had to choose between purchasing food or other household necessities and diapers? This is more common than you might have guessed.
Have parents in Wyoming been told they should "just use cloth diapers" to save on cost? Absolutely. However, cloth diapers require an initial investment that isn't insignificant; they also require a reliable washer/dryer to launder them. Many renters don't own a washer/dryer, and many laundromats have a ban against laundering cloth diapers anyway.
Have Wyoming infants and toddlers experienced greater risk of infection and other health issues because they end up wearing a full diaper far, far longer than recommended when there isn't a clean one to replace it? The answer is clear.
This is how need snowballs.
We recently chatted with Shelley Richno, the Community Impact Coordinator from United Way of Southwest Wyoming in Rock Springs to learn more about this important and pressing issue. United Way of Southwest Wyoming has been a member of the National Diaper Bank Network since 2013. She oversees partnerships with communities in Rock Springs, Green River, and Evanston and seeks to build connections with existing food pantries to offer diapers since people in crisis and experiencing trauma (job loss, domestic abuse, medical emergency, etc.) struggle even more when multiple trips are required to secure basic necessities.
Membership in the National Diaper Bank Network helps tremendously—she is able to secure diapers for distribution tax-free and at a lower cost through discounts at Medline and an Amazon Prime membership that is paid for, as well as receiving support through conferences, training, and advocacy resources. Early campaigns to raise awareness within the closeknit trona miner community have resulted in a flood of generosity and support for raising money to purchase diapers for distribution, too. She acknowledges that all this work is still a temporary fix. Still, it makes a difference for scores of families that find themselves needing assistance.
"The average family who needs help the most is the working poor," Richno said. "They are struggling to pay bills, rent, and provide food for their families. We find the average family falls short about one package of diapers a month, but worry that requesting help will mean someone could report them to the Department of Family Services or some other entity. We work to have no stigma about needing them, but the concern is very real."
United Way of Southwest Wyoming isn't the only agency in Wyoming tackling this issue as best they can. Laramie Interfaith and Family Promise in Laramie, Needs, Inc. in Cheyenne, as well as Mercer Family Resource Center, Interfaith, and Wyoming Food for Thought Project in Casper are all working to make diapers available. Grassroots efforts to meet need exist in Sublette County, Washakie County, and Fremont County as well, among a growing list of other locations in Wyoming. Simply put: no program provide assistance for diapers, so meeting the gap between need and supply falls to local efforts. Raising awareness is the first step to understanding how best to solve that need.
"It is our neighbors," Richno says. "We are working to make a change in all our own, small communities."
Are you interested in helping meet diaper need? There are so many ways to help. Most local food pantries will gladly accept donations—call ahead to check specific size/brand need. Diaper drives are a great way to get community groups involved, too. In addition to local donations of both product and funds, you can donate financially to the National Diaper Bank Network.