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Black Diaper Bank leaders share struggles and successes

A baby and father

The community leaders who make up the Black Diaper Bank Coalition (BDBC) come from different places around the country. Some run small, volunteer-based organizations; others run major nonprofits. But they share important things, like “being invisible and hypervisible at the same time,” says Tamara Killian, who facilitates the group for the National Diaper Bank Network (NDBN), where she is chief of development. She explains that Black women leaders often feel unheard; at the same time, they feel expected to be spokeswomen for an entire race.

NDBN supports a national network of independent basic needs banks that supply communities with diapers, period products, and other essentials not covered by most public assistance programs. Data shows that 25% of the leaders of NDBN member organizations identify as BIPOC. “We have diverse representation in the network,” said CEO Joanne Samuel Goldblum. “But we need to challenge ourselves to ensure that we’re equitably serving all the communities that make up NDBN. That takes ongoing learning, which Candid is helping us with, and ongoing action.”

The BDBC meets monthly to share experiences as well as practical information. While it is a safe space to say anything at all, Killian draws out major themes about the resources Black women leading diaper banks need to succeed. (There are basic needs banks run by Black men, but none of them are active in the caucus.) She has used these observations to change the way NDBN does business.

A 2020 Echoing Green study found that nonprofits led by Black women received less funding than those run by white women or Black men. The report also found that when nonprofits led by people of color did get funding, it was more likely to come with restrictions. “The research resonated with the group. People shared their own experiences of being treated as doubtful stewards of funding, simply because they are Black,” Killian says.

“Tamara stepped up to be a resource for the BDBC, which members had already started on their own,” says Goldblum. “She recognized the strong link between development and diversity and equity. Her work has led to more NDBN grant writing specifically to support Black-led organizations as well as a change in the intentional allocation of resources.”

NDBN distributes tens of millions of diapers and period supplies to its member organizations every year, largely thanks to donations from Kimberly-Clark. Previously, the donations were allotted through a formula that included the size of the organization. However, the data revealed that this method disadvantaged Black leaders, who were more likely to work a full-time job to support themselves in addition to running a basic needs bank pro bono. That made organizational growth slower. NDBN changed eligibility guidelines, and now more Black-led organizations are sharing in the donated product.

After its national conference eight years ago, NDBN began collecting membership demographics. Most speakers at the conference, even on a diversity panel, were white women who had decided to found diaper banks and were able to work at it full time without any other source of income. “The clear lack of diversity did not reflect the leadership of the national network, nor the communities and populations served by diaper banks,” says Chief of Programs Susan Van Ness.  “NDBN staff recognized that the organization needed to do more to speak to and direct resources to all communities it serves.”

NDBN wrote its own survey to explore member demographics, but quickly found that it was getting lost among so many demands on nonprofit leaders. Candid offered to create a survey that was part of what basic needs banks already fill out for their GuideStar profiles, making collection standard and easy, and giving NDBN automatic access.

Ayanna White’s story is an example of the different path that led many coalition members to the work. Her daughter’s daycare called on a Wednesday to say that her child was out of diapers. Childcare providers often won’t accept children unless the family supplies diapers, but White didn’t get paid until Friday. Though she was able to get help from family, the memory haunted her: “That despair I was feeling was something other families were feeling too.” She founded Power in Changing, a South Carolina diaper bank, while still working full-time to pay the bills.

At a recent NDBN Lobby Day on Capitol Hill, White was scheduled to meet with Congressional staffers, along with Goldblum. White was uncomfortable about being in that group. “The star is you,” Killian told her, a conviction echoed by coalition members. “I sat in on that meeting. She did fantastic,” Killian now recalls. White so impressed Rep. Jim Clyburn’s staff that Clyburn, the third ranking Democrat in the House, came by Power in Changing for a talk with White about diaper need.

White has now become the paid executive director of Power in Changing, which now qualifies for network donations. In addition to distributing diapers directly to families and through partner nonprofits, Power in Changing runs a variety of programs, including prenatal assistance. She envisions more that the coalition can do, like collaborative grant writing. Though NDBN has been around a decade and some basic needs banks were around before that, White says that diaper need is still a new concept. “We are a fairly new lane, and we’re creating this lane with the help of the network,” she says.

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  • Kate Meyers Emery says:

    May 31, 2022 1:28 pm

    Hi Leteria, there is a member diaper bank in your area, called Sweet Cheeks Diaper Ministry. You can get help by using their online form or directly contacting them here: https://www.sweetcheeksdiaperministry.org/gethelp/.

  • Leteria Basley says:

    May 28, 2022 11:52 am

    I would love to be apart of this program. I am a struggling mother in Memphis, Tn and in need of help with diapers. I have a 2 month old preemie and a 1 year old. Please help me get in contact with this organization.

  • Viola Thomas says:

    April 20, 2022 1:53 pm

    Very inspiring story. I tried to become a hub for diapers and other products for the 3 communities my organization serves but to no avail. We are new to the social service sector and we have to start somewhere. I am the Founder and CEO of the Central Ward Womens Shelter and our moms struggle to keep baby clean and dry. I was asked to first do a diaper drive. I never knew obtaining a donation would be so challenging. Its worth it though.