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Idaho woman created the Idaho Diaper Bank in response to an often-overlooked need

The Idaho Diaper Bank gives about 3,000 diapers a month to the Cathedral of the Rockies baby needs ministry. The Cathedral distributes diapers to families once a month. Hillary Hahn, left, who heads the baby needs ministry, counts diapers into smaller packages with the help of Shawna Walz, right, founder of Idaho Diaper Bank, and her son, Devin, 5. Throughout Idaho, the Diaper Bank distributes 50,000 diapers a month.
The Idaho Diaper Bank gives about 3,000 diapers a month to the Cathedral of the Rockies baby needs ministry. The Cathedral distributes diapers to families once a month. Hillary Hahn, left, who heads the baby needs ministry, counts diapers into smaller packages with the help of Shawna Walz, right, founder of Idaho Diaper Bank, and her son, Devin, 5. Throughout Idaho, the Diaper Bank distributes 50,000 diapers a month. kjones@idahostatesman.com

Diapers are expensive. When people can’t them, there’s a ripple effect. Families cannot leave their children in day care. Older adults who need them can become secluded.

Shawna Walz recognized this need and founded a nonprofit to meet it. The Idaho Diaper Bank provides diapers to any Idahoan of any age who needs them.

The bank is volunteer-run with a small budget, but it is having great impact because of its connections and expertise.

In 2015, the diaper bank received grants that helped it expand into rural Idaho, where low-income families lack access to Costco, Walmart or other large stores that sell diapers at discounts. The bank works with 40 partner agencies, including homeless shelters and food pantries, to distribute diapers. It has a warehouse in Meridian and has begun working with manufacturers to ship diapers directly to rural areas.

Walz, the executive director, answered questions. She worked for 12 years at Nike in senior positions before founding the diaper bank.

Q: What inspired you to found the diaper bank?

A: I have two kids, ages 4 and 5. When my first was born, I was overwhelmed with joy and love but also had a shocking realization of resources it takes to care for a baby.

I am from Idaho but was living in Baltimore at the time. I was blessed to have resources, financial and family support, but I could see a lot of poverty around me. I couldn’t imagine the stress on families with young children who were also struggling with poverty.

I made this pledge to do something for families in need. When my family moved back to Idaho, it was time to make good on that promise. I started talking to community leaders — United Way of Treasure Valley, the Idaho Foodbank — asking them what families needed the most. Diapers kept coming up.

Food stamps don’t pay for diapers. Here I was, a mother with kids in diapers, but that hadn’t been at the top of my mind. I heard stories about parents struggling, using one diaper a day, or trying to clean disposable diapers.

Not having access to clean diapers has links to maternal depression, but there are also health consequences for babies. And ripple effects. If you can’t provide diapers, your child often can’t go to day care or school. I realized that this was a program that we should be able to do.

Q: Of what are you most proud?

A: That we are effectively raising awareness about diaper need and engaging the community in recognizing that diapers are a basic necessity like food and shelter.

I’m also proud that we remain an all-volunteer organization. No one on our staff takes a salary. Nearly 98 cents of every dollar donated goes directly to our cause. Only about 2 percent goes to operating costs or general and administrative costs.

We started something that’s truly based on a need. We’ve had a good response from the community. In-kind services help keep operating costs low. We’ve gone from having four partners and giving away 5,000 diapers to now having 40 partners and last month giving away 80,000 diapers. We got Kimberly Clark to donate three semis of diapers. We’ve been able to grow in a cost-effective way.

Q: Who are your donors?

A: Individuals, foundations, and grants from local organizations. Some of our partners who distribute the diapers also contribute. We also have individuals and organizations who donate in-kind services — marketing and public relations, warehouse space — which greatly aids our effort.

Q: Have you noticed certain trends in who supports your organization?

A: People talk about diaper needs as a silent crisis, especially for the elderly. But the consequences are there. I’ve heard from folks who tell me the reliance on diapers is the hardest thing they’ve had to deal with. A lot of elderly people will stay home [and] become isolated because they don’t have this basic need.

So I’ve noticed that as we raise awareness in the community more organizations are willing to help provide grants to the IDB. As we get the word out, we’re getting more first-time donors.

Q: When it comes to fundraising, what has been an effective tool?

A: IDB has relied heavily on “friend-raising.” As a new organization, the first pillar of our strategy has been to raise awareness about diaper need so that people know the why behind our ask. We haven’t done annual campaigns, mail campaigns or mass appeals. It’s mostly been word of mouth. We want to raise awareness of the issue at this point so that when we’re ready to make an ask, people will understand why this is important.

We also have “no-gala galas.” To keep costs low, we’ve been asking interested donors and friends to have in-home events, inviting friends over to talk about this need. We’ve had three of these events so far. We’ve asked board members to host them.

Q: What are the best ways you've found to build relationships with donors?

A: We are seeking to provide opportunities for our donors and/or interested individuals to learn about the whole picture of basic needs. We often say diapers are a hidden consequence of poverty. For example, this year we held a policy panel with legislators, pediatricians and leading experts in social services and poverty to provide a forum for donors to learn more about the underlying causes that are often present when we encounter diaper need.

Q: Who is your competition when it comes to raising money?

A: I haven’t really thought about raising money from a competitive standpoint. We really see the value of collaboration. We’re a centralized place specializing in providing diapers. Other organizations might provide them, but they’re clipping coupons, or struggling to find space to store the diapers they have. We can help organizations who don’t have room to stockpile diapers. Or, someone might have pull-ups, but needs size 2s. We can trade and get them what they need when they need it.

Q: What benefits do you offer donors?

A: We do offer opportunities to attend events such as our recent Brunch for Babies series with distinguished or inspirational speakers. We also offer our larger donors the opportunity to be mentioned in press releases and/or on our website.

The Idaho Diaper Bank

Established: 2014

Address: 621 E. King St., Ste. #100, Meridian

208-996-3575

Annual budget: $300,000

Staff size: No paid staff. A volunteer director and a 13-person volunteer board of directors

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