As a social worker, Eliseba Osore often found herself working with women who desperately needed supplies for their babies and small children.
One teenage mother, she remembers, didn’t have a crib, so Osore’s co-worker posted a request for one on her own neighborhood’s listserv. “Within 15 minutes, we had 10 to 15 responses,” Osore says. “So I started thinking, ‘People just have this stuff. They don’t have babies anymore and it’s just sitting in their house a couple of blocks away from someone who needs it.’”
From there, an idea was born to collect baby-related items from people who no longer need them and get them to the women and families who do.
As an OSI-Baltimore fellow, Osore, 27, will grow and refine the ShareBaby Baby Pantry, which she dreamed up to do just that.
ShareBaby is an established Maryland nonprofit that provides diapers, clothing and other basic goods to organizations that work with families in need such as House of Ruth, Sarah’s Hope and the International Rescue Committee (IRC). Osore’s Baby Pantry will focus mostly on stocking a diaper bank, which is the primary need for struggling families.
That’s because diapers are expensive; $25-$30 a box for a generic brand at a big box store. And unlike formula or baby food, diapers aren’t covered by any social service such as WIC or food stamps. The National Diaper Bank Network estimates that families spend an average of $80 a month per child on diapers, Osore says.
“One in three families face diaper need,” Osore says. “And in Baltimore, we think there are about 25,000 children who are dealing with diaper need. Most people who don’t struggle financially don’t realize that such a basic necessity isn’t covered.”
When families can’t afford diapers, it leads to many health risks, such as diaper rash, urinary tract infections, stress for parents and babies and increased instances of child abuse, Osore says.
“Age 0-3 is the largest development age for children,” she says. “And that’s a high-stress time for parents. If we can relieve the stress of that time period, then we can help create better, more productive citizens. As a society, we should feel invested in all of our children despite our feelings about whatever their mom or dad did or didn’t do.”
For families experiencing diaper need, it also can be a barrier to work, Osore says. “Most daycares ask for a day’s supply of diapers per child. If you can’t afford that, then you can’t send your child to daycare and so finding work is even harder. It creates this whole snowball of issues. It’s just insane.”
Osore says the diaper bank needs to have enough donated diapers to distribute 50 diapers per child per month to organizations that work with families in need. In October, ShareBaby gave out more than 13,000 diapers.
“Baltimore has one of the highest needs in the state,” she added.
Although diapers are Osore’s focus, ShareBaby also collects other items such as baby clothing, also a major need. And many families have been requesting Pack ‘n Plays (portable cribs), high chairs, strollers and formula.
“I see the role of the Baby Pantry as a tool to educate and help bridge the two Baltimores,” Osore says. “People who don’t have to struggle every day, if we can get them to think about the lives of people who do and get them to understand that it’s important to give what they don’t need anymore to those who do, I think we will have a much better community. The baby didn’t choose to be here and it didn’t choose its circumstances. As a community, as a society, we should all be investing in that child.”
Listen to Osore talk about ShareBaby Baby Pantry on WYPR’s on the Record.