The Philadelphia Archdiocese has teamed up with City of Philadelphia officials to provide free diapers and food to families in need due to the coronavirus pandemic.
On April 21, staff from archdiocesan Nutritional Development Services (NDS) and Catholic Social Services (CSS) distributed close to 2,000 diapers and 100 bags of breakfast items from the Archdiocesan Pastoral Center at 17th and Race streets in Center City Philadelphia.
The location is one of 10 recommended by the city, with half of the sites operated by CSS. The food pantry at St. Cyprian Parish in West Philadelphia is also a distribution point for the outreach.
The Greater Philadelphia Diaper Bank and the nonprofit Mitzvah Circle are providing the diapers, which along with the NDS-supplied breakfast bags will be available on Tuesdays from 1 to 3 p.m. and Fridays from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. at the pastoral center.
Hours vary at the remaining CSS sites, information for which is available on that agency’s COVID-19 resource page.
Families throughout the five-county area can collect one package of diapers per visit, along with a five-day supply of breakfast for children, who do not need to be present.
“We’re not asking for any identification,” said Robert Jones, director of government programs for NDS. “We just need their name, cell phone number and zip code.”
Jones added that recipients are asked to call 267-262-8904 in advance to provide their name and the child’s diaper size.
Some of the phone messages have been heartbreaking, he said.
“I’ve had people say, ‘I have nothing for my child. I lost my job, and I am so happy I can come and get diapers,” said Jones.
Panicked buying due to stay-at-home orders has depleted many stores of vital supplies including diapers, which can cost families a monthly average of $80 per baby, according to the National Diaper Bank Network.
Last month, a viral video showed one mother crying at a bare-shelved Walmart and asking, “How am I supposed to diaper my child if I can’t afford 20 (packages) at a time like you can?”
For many low-income families, getting free diapers means more money with which to buy food, said Camille Crane, administrator of CSS’s Casa del Carmen Family Service Center in North Philadelphia.
“This pandemic has not made it easier for those who live in poverty,” she said. “It’s exacerbated their situation.”
With infants and toddlers requiring eight to 12 changes a day, “diaper need” can take a toll on both children and parents, said Amy Stoner, director of CSS’s community-based, housing and homeless services.
“Babies who are sitting in dirty diapers for long periods of time can develop rashes and urinary tract infections,” she said. “It’s a major health issue.”
Emotional well-being is also at risk, said Stoner, since “when a baby is sick and has difficulty calming herself down, it leads in turn to frustration for the parents.”
Stoner has previously described “distributing diapers is a great way to prevent child abuse” by relieving “an immediate and huge stressor.”
With pandemic-related unemployment and financial insecurity soaring, families are under increased pressure, making collaboration among area outreaches even more vital, said James Amato, secretary for archdiocesan Catholic Human Services.
“We have a longstanding partnership with the city of Philadelphia, and deputy mayor Cynthia Figueroa asked us to assist with this effort, knowing our deep roots in the community,” he said.
NDS has already been “working with the city to fill in areas of need related to food access,” said executive director Lizanne Hagedorn.
Prior to the April 21 distribution, Philadelphia Auxiliary Bishop John McIntyre, who oversees archdiocesan Catholic Human Services, blessed those giving and receiving the diapers and food.
“Keep them and their children safe from all harm, and keep them in good health,” he prayed.
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