“When a diaper makes all the difference,” is the title of a new piece by published (Sept. 16, 2016) by Hartford Courant columnist Susan Campbell.
In the column, Campbell profiles Joanne Goldblum and her work as founder and CEO of the National Diaper Bank Network. The column is reprinted below.
In the end, it’s never just a diaper.
In fact, it’s never just a school breakfast, or a pair of shoes, either.
There is no one instance of “just a diaper.” Sometimes, “just a diaper” can be the difference between a healthy child and one who needs medical care. Or it can mean the difference between a parent who has sufficient resources to take a child to a decent day care center and a parent who must stay home for lack of, well, just a diaper.
Joanne Samuel Goldblum grew up in New Jersey, the daughter of politically active parents, including a mother who for a time ran a Planned Parenthood clinic. She attended Hunter College, where she was schooled in the Jane Addams way of social work. Addams, the mother of the modern social worker movement and a Nobel Peace Prize recipient, was not a clinician, as some social workers are trained to be now. Addams advocated correcting the failures of a system that does not offer the same opportunities for all.
Goldblum started her career as a social worker at the psychiatric emergency room at Bellevue Hospital, now known as NYC Health + Hospitals/Bellevue. Many of her patients were people with serious mental illness who’d been or were about to be homeless.
She became adept at helping people at their wits’ end navigate a maze of assistance programs, but sometimes, families couldn’t hang on to stable housing for lack of just a diaper. Now in New Haven, Goldblum began noticing how often something so basic (and taken for granted by people with the resources to buy them) could sink a struggling family.
Activists had created a diaper bank in Arizona. Goldblum adopted their model for New Haven in 2004, and for a while operated the organization out of her home. In 2011, she and other diaper banks around the country formed the New Haven-based National Diaper Bank Network (with Goldblum as CEO) with an eye on providing a basic need to young, struggling families. They started with just 40 banks. Their membership has since grown to 320 banks in 46 states, as well as the District of Columbia and Guam. Huggies, the diaper and baby products corporation, is a founding sponsor and has donated roughly 120 million diapers to the effort.
By the network’s reckoning, there are roughly 11 million children in the U.S. who are of diaper age. Slightly less than half of those children (47 percent) live in low-income families, where diapers, which can cost $80 a month and more if the child in question is an infant, take up a big part of a family’s budget.
Government-sponsored assistance programs (such as SNAP, formerly known as food stamps) do not cover diapers. Yet for poor families with small children, diapers are as much a necessity as food.
In five years, the network’s mission has broadened past diapers to basic needs in general. They’ve had to, while government assistance programs continue to tighten their belts. The D.C.-based Center on Budget and Policy Priorities recently said that the spending power of the program that was supposed to replace welfare, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, or TANF, has fallen 20 percent below 1996 levels. TANF does very little to lift families out of deep poverty here in Connecticut and elsewhere.
In an August op-ed for U.S. News & World Report, Goldblum wrote: “Basic needs are more than food and shelter. Yet that’s what safety net programs provide. In fact, calling any of our safety net programs ‘anti-poverty’ is a stretch. They are ‘keep-you-alive-but-still-in-poverty’ programs.”
So any dream of getting a leg up using the help provided by assistance programs is really just a dream.
As for her career choice, running a nonprofit organization can be a headache, from fundraising to figuring out where to buy office chairs. But there’s precedent in her house for following one’s dream. Her husband, David, was a developer, but is now principal at Hartford’s Pathways Academy of Technology and Design. And, said Goldblum, “I feel like I’m still doing social work. Social work is about changing policy and making the world a better place.”
It’s not that Goldblum believes every family that receives diapers from a diaper bank will raise a child who will be president of the United States. But imagine if every family that receives diapers from a diaper bank had the opportunity to do so.
Diaper Needs Awareness Week starts Sept. 26. For more details, go here: http://nationaldiaperbanknetwork.org/diaperawareness/.
Susan Campbell teaches at the University of New Haven. She is the author of “Dating Jesus: Fundamentalism, Feminism and the American Girl” and “Tempest-Tossed: The Spirit of Isabella Beecher Hooker.” Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.