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85 miles from home with an infant and only $15, she runs out of gas and diapers. Which does she buy?

Junior League of Columbus steps up to help mothers in need

Diapers aren't covered under public assistance programs like WIC and SNAP. Mothers in those programs can't use benefits to buy diapers, which are treated like cigarettes, alcohol and dog food. Here's how the Junior League of Columbus is helping.
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Diapers aren't covered under public assistance programs like WIC and SNAP. Mothers in those programs can't use benefits to buy diapers, which are treated like cigarettes, alcohol and dog food. Here's how the Junior League of Columbus is helping.

Lensira Jackson was 85 miles from home with her infant daughter, $15, no gas and no diapers.

She had taken daughter Arlana to visit friends in Albany, and run short of necessities:

“I ran out of gas, and she ran out of diapers at the same time. ... Should I get the gas or get the diapers? I was using pillow cases and towels. I was going to go home, but I couldn’t make it.”

She had to buy diapers or gas. She chose diapers.

“We were stuck in Albany for a week,” she said. Her friends finally got her home.

Her home is an apartment in the Elizabeth Canty housing complex in Columbus, where she lives with her mother. Another child besides Arlana, a four-month-old cousin, is there, and also needs diapers: “He goes through a lot, too,” said Jackson, 21, whose daughter’s about a year old now.

For young mothers, diapers are critical, and public assistance programs such as WIC (Women, Infants and Children) and SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) don’t pay for them, treating them the same as alcohol, cigarettes and dog food.

An infant has to be changed about 10 times a day. A single disposable diaper runs 18 to 20 cents each. Most children are potty-trained by age 3, but still may need pull-ups after that. Pull-ups run 36 to 62 cents each, depending on size and quality.

A box of average-quality diapers might cost around $30 for around 170. One of the better brands could cost about $15 more.

Price varies not only by quality, but by the size of the diaper and volume of the purchase. Were poor mothers within range of a big-box discount store, and had they the cash on hand to buy in volume, they might stock up, but their circumstances often don’t favor that.

Cloth diapers might seem more economical, but laundering costs money, too, and cleanliness is crucial.

Mothers who can’t afford new diapers sometimes try to clean and reuse soiled ones, which can lead to infections and skin irritation.

Besides the usual rashes, wet fabric too long against an infant’s sensitive skin can result in a cyst that has to be lanced and drained of puss. That happened to Arlana once, and it required a trip to the emergency room.

The cyst was about the size of a quarter, the mother said. “If I wiped, she’d cry…. When I wiped, I felt the bump, and I told my mama, and that’s when she told me to go to the hospital.”

“It reminds you of a spider bite,” said Lakisa Russell, the Columbus Housing Authority’s family self-sufficiency coordinator.

The Housing Authority is among the agencies that distribute diapers to young mothers such as Lensira Jackson from Columbus’ local diaper bank, for which the Junior League of Columbus collects.

The bank is among five in Georgia that together distribute 154,000 diapers annually, said Stephanie Hollifield of the Junior League, online at www.jlcolumbus.com.

A reliable diaper supply can help young mothers keep jobs, because day care centers require parents to supply diapers. Mothers who run out may lose income by having to stay home with their kids because childcare won’t accept a child without the diapers.

Besides the Housing Authority, the local diaper bank supplies diapers to Hope Harbour, Damascus Way, the Open Door Community Center and Young Lives, a group of teen mothers, Hollifield said.

One in three mothers needs help getting diapers, she said. The Junior League holds a diaper drive publicized by women wearing the same black dresses for a week to symbolize poverty and lack of choice. This year 54 women daily wore the same black dresses to raise money for the diaper bank.

The league takes contributions all year long. People can drop diapers or donations off at the Wynn House, 1240 Wynnton Road, where the league’s office on the second floor is open 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday. The telephone number is 706-327-4207.

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