Go Ask Mom

Group collects, distributes diapers to needy families

The Diaper Train opened its doors in March in Raleigh. It distributes diapers to needy families in Wake County and needs donations and volunteers.

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Sarah Lindenfeld Hall

It was a big day when my three-year-old starting wearing underwear. I was so proud of her, but also excited that I'd no longer need to be making those regular trips to Target for a case of disposables.

Lucky for me, buying diapers was only a hassle - an expensive one, certainly - but one that my family could afford.

But many parents with young kids - 1 in 3, according to the National Diaper Bank Network - struggle to buy diapers for their children. Food stamps and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (commonly known as WIC), can't be spent on diapers. Local agencies, focused on other needs, often have very few diapers to give away.

The result: Children languish in dirty diapers, leading to diaper rashes and infections. Families choose between buying diapers, which can cost about $80 a month for one child, and other basics such as food and gas.

The cost for diapers can be especially tricky for poor working families, who must squirrel away extra disposable diapers at their child's day care so they can continue to attend the school, but then wonder how they'll pay for gas to get to their job.

Cameron Ellerbe, a Raleigh mom of three, first learned of the need in 2010 after watching a commercial about the  Carolina Hurricanes' effort to collect diapers - through a program with Huggies - for needy families.

"It stopped me in my tracks," Ellerbe remembers.

And then the ball started rolling. The next week, she received an email from her church, Christ Episcopal Church in Raleigh, about plans to organize a diaper ministry.

Ellerbe connected with Allene Adams, who had worked with a similar group in Maine. A group quickly got together to start the ministry. Ellerbe and Adams, who also has three kids, helped found and now lead the program called The Diaper Train.

At first, the group helped set up diaper drives at different churches and agencies and would give the donated goods to groups that help needy families. Then, in April 2011, when a tornado devastated parts of Raleigh, the group really got to work, collecting and giving diapers to the victims.

A year later, in March, the group opened its doors at Saint Savior's Center on Tucker Street near downtown Raleigh. Every Thursday morning, as many as 5,000 diapers are given to families, who have been referred to The Diaper Train through different agencies in Wake County.

Families can collect diapers, usually about a two week supply, once a month. In 2011, the group gave away 65,000 diapers. This year, as of Aug. 31, the total count was up to 134,000 and counting.

The group also gives away packages of wipes and books for the kids who come with their parents.

"It has exploded," Ellerbe tells me.

There's a huge need for more diapers. On a recent Thursday as the group opened its doors, some of the shelves were close to empty. They need diapers in all sizes, along with packages of wipes and books for kids. They will accept open packages of diapers. I cleaned out a drawer at my house of opened packages with sizes that my younger daughter has grown out of.

And they need volunteers to help on Thursday mornings. Ellerbe says this can be a fun and educational activity for school-age kids. Her two older children love helping her when they're out of school, especially reading books to the kids who drop by.

For more information about the group, watch my video interview with Ellerbe and go to The Diaper Train's website.

Go Ask Mom will be collecting diapers, wipes and used books for The Diaper Train at our event at the Midtown Farmers' Market from 8 a.m. to noon, Oct. 20. The Sandbox band for kids and families will be there, along with some other fun activities.

Go Ask Mom features local moms every Monday.

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