By: Muriel Smith, Executive Director of St. Louis Diaper Bank
Starting the Missouri Diaper Bank Coalition
There are eight NDBN-member diaper banks in Missouri with a common mission: ending diaper need and period poverty in our state. By working in close collaboration, we are speeding our progress toward meeting that goal.
When I joined the St. Louis Area Diaper Bank three years ago as executive director, there were already regular meetings between this organization and the diaper banks in Kansas City and Springfield. We would share information and support each other. A year later, a number of bills were introduced in our state legislature proposing to exempt diapers and period supplies from state sales tax. Obviously, we wanted to give these bills their best chance, because lowering the out-of-pocket cost of these items will reduce the burden on people who struggle to afford them. We needed participation from nonprofits who could contact their own legislators in every part of the state. And so the Missouri Coalition of Diaper Banks was born.
Asking for help and working together
You might think that getting together leaders from eight busy nonprofits with small staffs would be difficult, particularly because we are spread across the state. It was surprisingly easy, since every one of us was committed to getting these bills passed and so willing to make the time to do this work.
None of us had experience doing legislative advocacy, but as nonprofit leaders we are good at finding experts who can help us expand our capacity. A lobbyist who had volunteered at St. Louis Area Diaper Bank in the past kindly offered to pass along pertinent information, such as when key public hearings were scheduled. NDBN’s Director of Government Relations Lacey Gero comes to every monthly coalition meeting and helps us with the legislative process. Her knowledge has been invaluable.
2023 work and looking forward to 2024
We each testified separately for the tax relief bills, but we wrote the testimony together to make sure that we were not being repetitive and that we were hitting all our key messages. That first year at the capitol was hard going, with many legislators telling us that diaper need was “not a problem” because churches were filling the gap informally. As you might imagine, none of the sales tax bills passed.
That only made us more determined this year to educate legislators and the public about diaper need and period poverty. We came back stronger and saw more bills introduced and getting farther along in the process. Though we did not ultimately do away with the diaper tax and the tampon tax, we came much closer. We also contributed to the passage of other bills that address child poverty and support our work. Come January 2024, we will try once more. We believe the third time will be the charm, judging by how much progress we have already made.
Legislative advocacy is a key part of the Missouri Coalition of Diaper Banks’ work, but by no means all of it. There are still counties in northern Missouri that are not served by diaper or period supply banks. Together, we are figuring out the most efficient way to get service to Missourians in that region.
I would encourage every state to form a coalition of basic needs banks. NDBN will give you the assistance you need to be effective agents for policy change. You will give each other more support and priceless information than you can imagine, all to the great benefit of the people you serve.
Learn more about the Missouri Diaper Bank Coalition.