WAUKEGAN – Waukegan Mayor Ann Taylor welcomed volunteers this week and toured the Waukegan warehouse, where infant, toddler and adult diapers, period supplies, infant formula, children’s books, car seats, winter coats and more are being distributed to hundreds of families waiting to be served by keeping families covered.
“I’m super impressed,” said Taylor, who on September 20, together with the Waukegan City Council, declared the week of September 27 to October 3 in the city. “I knew you sold the diapers, but I didn’t know you had clothes and those other offers too.”
The non-profit organization that Ann Marie Mathis founded in her basement 11 years ago to provide mothers in need with carefully used equipment and clothing has come a long way. Today, diapers, pull-ups, and more are piled about two stories high at their facility on North Oak Grove Avenue. The organization cares for 1,200 families and 1,800 children every month and is in the process of distributing 1.5 million diapers this year.
The National Diaper Bank Network, of which Keeping Families Covered has been a member since 2014, estimates that one in three families has diaper needs. That said, they can’t afford enough diapers to keep their babies’ buttocks clean, dry, and healthy. The ripple effect can include increased difficulty for parents finding and keeping work, as daycare centers do not accept babies without adequate diaper supplies for the day.
“The more I learned about the need for a diaper, the more determined I was to do everything possible to meet it,” says Mathis, herself a mother of seven children aged 3 to 12 years.
With the help of a core group of volunteers, Keeping Families Covered operates monthly mobile diaper supplies in Gurnee, Grayslake, Waukegan, Round Lake Park and Kenosha, Wisconsin, as well as weekly distributions in Highwood.
The agency recently partnered with six other like-minded Illinois nonprofits to form an advocacy group to raise awareness of unmet diaper needs. And earlier this month, Governor JB Pritzker recognized September 27 through October. 3 as National Diaper Needs Week across Illinois.
“A lot of people don’t know that programs like WIC (the special nutritional supplement program for women, infants, and children) and other government safety nets don’t cover diapers,” Mathis said. “And efforts to lower the diaper tax rate in Illinois have not been successful either.
“Unmet diaper needs are a significant source of stress for parents, especially those who are struggling to make ends meet,” she continued. “On average, diapers cost $ 70 to $ 80 a month per child. For families living in poverty, that’s about 14 percent of their monthly income. These families need help and we are there for them.”
As she walked through the Keeping Families Covered office and storage space on Tuesday (Sept. 28), Taylor said she was amazed at the size, scope and efficiency of the operation. The need, she said, is certainly critical.
“All of these items are so expensive,” said Taylor. “They say you can change a child for $ 70 to $ 80 a month, but I think that’s a conservative estimate.”
And even that amount is breaking the bank for thousands of families, added Mathis.
“A lot of parents are faced with a choice between groceries and diapers,” she said. “It is a doom-loop.”
During the tour, in the diaper packing room, five volunteers filled packages with 25 diapers each, carefully labeled them according to size and prepared them for distribution.
“One thing I would say about this place is that it’s so easy to volunteer,” said Bryan Pearson of Gurnee, who was there with his wife Sandy. “It’s so well organized.”
Mathis said that those who are interested in volunteering have numerous options to do so. “Wrappy hours” on Thursday evenings, diaper campaigns in the neighborhood and service days on Saturday are just a few examples. You can find more options under “Lend a hand!” tab at holdfamiliescovered.org.
A new sponsorship program for changing tables has also been launched, with donations of between $ 500 and $ 5,000 and perks ranging from social media announcements to company names and logos on the organization’s 16-foot trailer and van are sufficient.
Mathis said her agency’s partnership with the National Diaper Bank Network enables Keeping Families Covered to purchase diapers in bulk at a steep discount, significantly stretching every dollar donated.
Further information on sponsorship can be found at Keepingfamiliescovered.org.
Taylor said she wished Mathis and her team continued success in achieving their goals, including calling for sales tax cuts on items such as diapers and period supplies.
“What you do is really important,” said the mayor. “I am so impressed.”