In early December, Corinne Cannon, Executive Director of the Greater DC Diaper Bank, accepted the 2017 Brickie Community Organization Award for service to District babies and families. Although it was not the first award won by either the Diaper Bank or Cannon, who was recognized as a 2015 CNN Hero and named a 2014 L’Oreal Paris Woman of Worth, she said it was a significant moment for both herself and the organization that she founded.
As she accepted the award, Cannon said that she loved the Ward 6 community for its engagement and for its support. “When I said I wanted to do this, people didn’t say it was impossible. They asked how they could help.”
Cannon founded the DC Diaper Bank in 2009, committing nights and weekends after her full-time job. Now employing four employees and hoping to hire an additional two in the coming year, the organization helped more than 8,000 families and distributed more than 1.8 million diapers last year.
“We very early on realized that this organization needed to be about collaboration,” she said, emphasizing that the diaper bank tries to augment and support the work of the District’s social services network that already existed. They partner with the Capital Area Food Bank to store and distribute the diapers.
In 2013, the organization reached a turning point. Cannon decided to quit her other job and focus on the diaper bank full time. With the organization getting larger, the name was changed to the Greater DC Diaper Bank (GDCDB) to better reflect the communities it serves from a new warehouse in Maryland. And that, Cannon said, “is where the organization really came into its own.”
Smoothing the Ask
The organization accumulates diapers through large-scale corporate donations (Cannon says Huggies is the number one corporate donor), through purchase using donated funds, and through the ambassador network, which has 150 locations throughout the Metro area and contributes 40-50,000 diapers a month. “[The ambassadors] are businesses and people’s homes –maybe a porch box, or instructions that say, ‘you can leave them by my steps,’” Cannon said.
Donations are distributed through a network of 42 partners, representatives from existing social services agencies with home visit programs. Every month partners place online orders for the number and sizes of diapers required. When they come to collect the diapers, volunteers load their cars while the partners collect essential items for families from the Baby Pantry.
Because of its successful collaboration with the community and subsequent expansion, GDCDB has expanded what it offers. The Baby Pantry, which last year distributed over $350,000 worth of products to District families, collects items such as toothpaste, shampoo, wipes, formula and baby food. The Monthly project collects and distributes feminine hygiene products while the Nursery Project conducts quarterly collection drives for larger items such as strollers, Pack ‘n Plays, baby carriers and feeding pillows.
These items “smooth the ask,” Cannon said, making it easier for parents to reach out to social services organizations.
For Cannon, it is the ambassadors that exemplify the community and goals at the heart of the diaper bank.
Bridgette Behling has been an Ambassador with the program since 2015. Her home is a diaper and product collection point, but she also picks up diapers from other drop-off locations. Together with her children, she helps to bundle diapers at the warehouse volunteer days.
“What I like about this role is that it is flexible,” she said. “It’s easy to find a way to be involved that works well for your life.”
A social worker by background now working in higher education, Behling said that work with GDCDB is helping her raise compassionate children who work for social justice, and care for their communities.
“Getting involved in GDCDB opened the door for me to model that to my children and have conversations about poverty, privilege and access to resources,” she said, adding that it also provided a tangible way for her to work with her children while doing something about poverty in the District.
Behling said food stamps and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) do not cover diapers, and families often end up buying them from local convenience where they could pay markups of up to 54 cents on a single diaper.
“When you start to understand that,” she said, “you start to understand what a significant difference access to free diapers can mean to families struggling to get by.”
Babes Supporting Babies
In 2015, GDCDB doubled its warehouse space, increasing the monthly costs. Capitol Hill residents Amanda Clarke and Kara Morrissey heard about the need for funding in the organization’s newsletter and offered their assistance.
In 2008, the two had established Boogie Babes, a community concert and dance party series for babies and children. The show expanded over time to include three shows before over 250 kids on the Hill. At the same time as the diaper bank had outgrown their space, Morrissey and Clarke’s children had outgrown the shows. With three children each and commitments to community and schools increasing, Clarke and Morrissey looked for the next step.
“We wanted to keep the spirit of Boogie Babes alive,” said Morrissey, “and give back to our amazing community.”
So, at the end of 2015, Morrissey and Clarke donated the Boogie Babes series to the GDCDB.
These days, the proceeds from Boogie Babes pay a large chunk of the diaper bank’s rent. Shows take place every Thursday beginning at 10:30 a.m. in the North Hall of Eastern Market. Hundreds of toddlers attend every week to hear children’s entertainers such as the Latin-Grammy Award winning 1-2-3 Andre and local favorites such as Kidsinger Jim and Mr. Skip.
Keeping the Lights On
Cannon is grateful for the gift of children’s music that funds the warehouse space. But she says that making rent is still a constant concern. “Particularly with the new changes in the tax law, we’re concerned that donors writing small checks might be reluctant.”
“A large number of donors giving relatively small amounts of money can have a huge impact on the work that we’re doing,” she said, noting that GDCDB has a reoccurring giving program starting at $12 per month, with information on their website, greaterdcdiaperbank.org.
“If everybody gives a little bit, we can create a lot of change,” she said.
Over the next few years, Cannon wants to focus on the operation’s outcomes, showing the impact of diapers and the impact on families, emotionally and economically, of not being able to acquire them.
She encourages families to get involved in the issue of family poverty any way they can, and not necessarily by getting involved with the diaper bank.
“It starts with asking questions,” she said, “by saying, ‘Why are families poor?’ and ‘What can I do to try and get involved in this in some way?’ and I have a good idea that there are lots of good people in DC who are working on this issue.”
And she knows the Hill neighborhood will do it, because they already have.
“We have grown very quickly. And I think that it speaks to the community wanting to do something around the issue of family poverty, and not really having an outlet to do that.”
Learn more about the DC Diaper Bank at greaterdcdiaperbank.org