Oftentimes, infants can go through diapers faster than parents can keep up with. For one Hilo mom, she’d find herself reaching inside the box when “all of a sudden we’d be on our last diaper.” And, with a newborn in the time of the Covid-19 pandemic, knowing when the next safe trip to the store was a gamble.
“As a new mother with your baby wailing in the back, it’s hard for you to drive that long way,” said Merlani Pablo, full-time caregiver.
Fortunately, Merlani was enrolled in Tūtū and Me’s Home Visiting program and phoned a friend to assist. Sommer, a Tūtū and Me Hilo Home Visitor, dropped off extra diapers and helped Merlani and her baby.
“If I couldn’t get to the store, maybe this happened once or twice, I asked Tūtū and Me if they had extra diapers,” said Merlani.
Merlani is one of more than 100 Tūtū and Me ʻohana on Hawaiʻi Island who benefit from the monthly diaper and wipes distributions made possible through a partnership with the Hawaiʻi Diaper Bank, a nonprofit organization aimed to connect these staples for families with young keiki.
“It is unacceptable that any parent is struggling to provide their child with this basic essential,” said Hannah London, Hawaiʻi Diaper Bank Board Chair. “We see diapers as such a big link for families, you cannot go without them when you’re a parent.”
The idea to start up the Hawaiʻi Diaper Bank evolved when former Tūtū and Me Nurse Jessica Histo wanted to donate her son’s unused diapers, but didn’t know anyone who needed them at the time. In a search to find a local place to donate the diapers, Jessica discovered the National Diaper Bank Network— only to find that Hawaiʻi did not have any locations at the time.
“I couldn’t just throw them away,” said Jessica. As a parent of a newborn and nurse specializing in labor and delivery, she knew all too well how precious diapers are and saw value in connecting parents of young keiki with the staple product.
She hosted a local diaper drive with the Association of Women’s Health, Obstetrics, and neonatal nurses during National Diaper Need Awareness week and donated the collected diapers to places like women’s shelters and Tūtū and Me.
Jessica’s humble, yet necessary, advocacy work in bridging the diaper need gap caught Hannah’s eyes, who was moving from the mainland to Kona and brought with her experience in nonprofit work, particularly with diaper banks.
What started as a simple diaper drive evolved into Hawaiʻi’s first diaper bank, established in 2018 by Jessica and Hannah in Kona. Only four years later and the Hawaiʻi Diaper Bank already serves over 1,500 keiki on Hawaiʻi Island.
“What I love about the diaper bank model is that it works with partners who work with families,” said Hannah. “We have these amazing community partners that can provide families with a more holistic type of service and help so that families don’t feel like they’re just receiving something and then we leave.”
The Hawaiʻi Diaper Bank consciously onboards partners that strengthen families and the household unit altogether so that there is continuous support. Hannah and Jessica work behind the scenes— they gather the diapers through donations and grants and distribute them to up to 19 community partners who can couple their services with diapers and other basic needs.
For Merlani, the diaper services were the blessing she didn’t know she needed. With a nine year difference between her newborn and her last child, “it was kind of like starting over again. Your brain forgets how things used to be when you had an infant. So it was really good having Tūtū and Me and being able to talk to someone about having a newborn in the house.”
While Merlani’s older sons attended Tūtū and Me Traveling preschool years ago, she connected with Tūtū and Me’s new Home Visiting program and benefited from the recently added diaper service through Hawaiʻi Diaper Bank, which “helped to save money, and time, which is huge when it comes to a growing family.”
Since the partnership, Hawaiʻi Diaper Bank has distributed nearly 60,000 diapers to PIDF’s Tūtū and Me Hawaiʻi island families.
On average, keiki can use about 8-12 diapers per day, depending on their age. That comes out to about $100 a month. For most families that the Hawaiʻi Diaper Bank serves, that cost adds up to more than $1,000 a year, which accounts for up to 14% of the average family’s income— and that’s just for one child.
“We aim to cover 50 diapers per child per month to cover that gap,” said Jessica. “We say about 8-10 extra diapers a week support families so they don’t feel like they’re being stretched or leaving their kid in diapers longer than they need to.”
The Hawaiʻi Diaper Bank only provides direct services to Hawaiʻi Island right now, but their impact reaches statewide. The team pushed for a bill (H.B. No. 2414) to pass that would establish a GE tax exemption on the sale of diapers and relieve many Hawaiʻi families from an expense that adds up quickly.
The Hawaiʻi Diaper Bank paved the way for Hawaiʻi, as the first of its kind in the state among 250 diaper banks in the nation and looks forward to expanding its services to neighboring islands.
When a parent reaches out and asks if the Hawaiʻi Diaper Bank will take their child’s unused diapers, Hannah and Jessica are reassured that the work they do comes full circle and helps new and growing families.