Unemployment through the COVID-19 crisis and shuttered stores after recent looting have made baby items like diapers harder to find and afford for many Chicago families.
On Tuesday afternoon, New Moms, a group that works to support young mothers and their families, hosted its weekly distribution of baby items, including formula, wipes and diapers. Parents and their children walked up with masks on to collect the products outside the organization’s office in the Austin neighborhood on Chicago’s West Side.
Within the first 45 minutes, said chief operating officer Pamela Bozeman, volunteers had given out about 900 diapers.
“There’s certainly a desperate need,” she said. The organization especially needs diapers in sizes 4, 5 and 6, she added. It also accepts donations of baby wipes and baby formula such as Enfamil and Similac — in cans or single serve.
On June 12, Mayor Lori Lightfoot asked Chicagoans to donate baby items to help families who need them. Nonprofit group Share Our Spare is collecting donations and will distribute them to sites across the city. They are hoping to get 100,000 diapers by July 20.
“One of the most significant challenges — as well as one of the most unnoticed — has been the ability to obtain clean and healthy essential items for babies and infants,” Lightfoot said in a statement announcing the donation collection.
Alex Goodfellow, executive director of Share Our Spare, noted that 1 in 3 families struggled to provide enough diapers for their children, a need that has only been exacerbated by recent increased unemployment. She added that diapers are not covered in government assistance programs.
New Moms is one of the groups collaborating with the mayor’s initiative. Bozeman said they have always tried to supply their families with baby items, but the coronavirus crisis meant many people either lost jobs or had to stay home and sacrifice paychecks to be with their children after day cares and schools closed.
Jalisa Newell, a mom who stopped by Tuesday to pick up items for her two-year-old son Jaleel, said she had to stop working at her job at FedEx when his daycare closed.
“I’ve got to stay home with him,” Newell, 22, said as Jaleel watched New Moms volunteers try to make him smile, offering him a piece of candy. Jaleel loves basketballs and balloons, cars and trucks. When volunteers offered the candy, he reached for the entire box.
Newell said being able to get diapers has helped during an in-between time. She hopes that the daycare will reopen and she will be able to return to work.
Bozeman said she saw families who were seeking help for the first time. “They’ve never had to pick up a box of supplies,” she said.
Many people are finding themselves challenged amid the coronavirus, but she noted that the most vulnerable are especially hard hit.
Some families live in neighborhoods where there aren’t many grocery stores, and the looting after George Floyd’s killing in Minneapolis shuttered the options they did have.
“Being a new mom is already an incredibly fragile time,” Bozeman said. “For our moms in particular, they are trying to do their very best as their child’s first parent, first teacher, first doctor.”
Their families stretch out the supplies as best they can. Some parents attend multiple donation events to try and find enough items.
“A family really is trying to piece together or weave together help,” she said.
At the event, Betty Williams, 82, picked up formula, diapers and wipes for her six-week-old great-granddaughter.
“This will last quite awhile,” she said.