GARDNER — About 250,000 diapers have been donated to low-income families since the food pantry opened in May 2014 at the Care Central VNA & Hospice.
The need for diapers is an issue faced by thousands of low-income families and new parents across the country. According to the National Diaper Bank Network, the average infant needs 10 diapers a day, and the monthly cost of diapers is around $80 per baby. In Gardner, low-income families may not have the access and resources to buy enough diapers to last the whole month.
Kareen Culkeen, Healthy Families Program Director at Care Central VNA & Hospice’s Gardner branch, explains the barriers these low-income, first-time parents face in keeping their babies clean, dry and healthy.
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“We opened up because we learned through our work with young families that the need for diapers is very real in our area. To buy diapers you need money and families cannot get them with food stamps or WICs,” Culkeen said. “If they don’t have transportation, which is another big challenge in this area, they can’t go to a place like BJs and buy the big box of diapers where there’s a lot less per diaper.”
“It’s a whole complicated cycle of ‘I don’t have enough money to buy diapers, which means I don’t have enough diapers for my child to go to daycare, which means I can’t go to work or school,’” Culkeen said. “It makes it even harder for many families who are unsure about diapers and just need a little help.”
The pantry is a very welcoming place for anyone who is unsafe. Any parent can be eligible for the program if they present the baby’s birth certificate upon arrival at the pantry. Each family can get 30 diapers each month and other items such as baby food and gently used baby clothes and toys.
“The mission of our pantry is that we don’t ask a lot of questions and serve the younger members of our community,” Culkeen said. “We’re not asking for any proof of anything beyond ‘Do you have a baby? “”
The pantry has no budget as all distributed diapers and other baby essentials are donated by individual community members or local non-profit organizations.
“The Women’s Circle of Giving has donated items and money to purchase diapers a few times over the past six years,” Culkeen said. “Local organizations give us money or buy boxes of diapers and bring them to the pantry themselves.”
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Culkeen said she has dozens of community members who gently donate baby toys, baby clothes, as well as diapers of all sizes.
“Some of our donations come from families who bought a big box of diapers and then the next week their baby outgrows them, so instead of throwing them away, they give them to us,” Culkeen said.
The food pantry is located at 34 Pearly Lane and is open every Thursday from 1 to 3 p.m. and the charity is always looking for volunteers and donations.
For more information, visit the center’s website at carecentralvnahospice.org
Care Central VNA & Hospice has created 12 different programs with the goal of building healthy communities by providing quality health care to 92 different communities in Western and Central Massachusetts.