weather icon Partly Cloudy

More Las Vegas families seek diaper aid during pandemic, nonprofits say

Donna Gamble stood in line for diapers, her week-old foster daughter asleep in her carrier.

The Baby’s Bounty’s pop-up diaper bank on Thursday was a lifeline for her, she said.

A week’s worth of infant diapers and formula, plus an optional knit hat for the baby, are helpful to her as she gets the new baby comfortable, said Gamble, a Las Vegas resident and foster parent for 20 years.

“It’s awesome because oftentimes everyone knows we get a stipend every month for taking care of the children but they forget that when my babies leave with their new family, I send everything,” she said. “So I start from scratch every time I get a placement. This really helps.”

The coronavirus pandemic’s impact led to an increased need for donated diapers, several diaper bank leaders across the Las Vegas Valley said during Diaper Need Awareness Week, which runs through Sunday.

Pandemic spurs need

As families dealt with initial shutdowns and layoffs in spring 2020, some baby service charities fielded more requests for diapers and baby formula while awaiting unemployment benefits.

“When COVID hit, we realized our clients were calling us and saying, ‘I’m on my last diaper change,’ or ‘I’m on my last can of formula. I don’t know what I’m going to do,’” Kelly Maxwell, executive director of Baby’s Bounty, said.

The nonprofit, which is focused on infant care basics and parental education programming, started a diaper bank in spring 2020 in response to the calls.

The organization distributed 875,000 diapers and 2.7 million wipes to more than 16,000 families between May 2020 and mid-September, it said. Banks are hosted weekly on Wednesdays and alternate between locations in Las Vegas, North Las Vegas and Henderson.

Families can get about a week’s worth of diapers in sizes from premature to six, as well as pull-ups, for up to three children.

The National Diaper Bank Network estimates one in three U.S. families struggles with providing enough diapers to keep a child clean, dry and healthy. Diapers aren’t covered by SNAP benefits and can cost anywhere from 20 cents to $1 per unit.

Families with multiple children notice the cost adding up quickly. Las Vegas resident Elissa Villatoro has three children: a 3-year-old and twin 1-year-olds. She said cost-saving measures such diaper banks and using cloth diapers, when possible, alleviate some of the strain.

“When you have two, it’s like thousands of dollars until they’re out of diapers,” Villatoro said. “We try everything we can.”

‘We find a way to figure it out’

Diaper banks strive to help families save money for other necessities. HELP of Southern Nevada runs a diaper bank on Mondays in Las Vegas and Tuesdays in North Las Vegas, chief community relations officer Abby Quinn said. HELP donated diapers 1,656 times in 2020 and 881 times in 2021 so far, it said.

“No mother or father wants their child to sit in a dirty diaper,” Quinn said. “No parent should have to make that decision, ‘Am I going to get food on the table? Or am I going to change little Sally’s diaper three or five times today if needed?’ So this really takes a weight off of our client’s shoulders.”

The need in Clark County became apparent to Maxwell when the initial diaper bank — first planned only as a triage measure — grew to a regularly used bank, she said. They are now more frequently used than the infant care necessities program, called a baby bundle.

Maxwell said she hopes to launch a mobile diaper bank to reach Clark County families without a car and outside of the valley.

“I don’t think we’re scaled for (the need) now but we’re doing it,” Maxwell said. “That’s the thing about need. You can’t really ever be ready for it, you just do it. Each week the diaper bank gets larger and larger and we find a way to figure it out.”

HELP of Southern Nevada accepts diaper donations, including half-boxes, from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Mondays through Thursdays. Email aquinn@helpsonv.org for more information.

McKenna Ross is a corps member with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms. Contact her at mross@reviewjournal.com. Follow @mckenna_ross_ on Twitter.

Don't miss the big stories. Like us on Facebook.