While helping his friends navigate federal assistance programs, Anthony recognized how barriers such as a lack of information, computer access, illiteracy, public perception, and pride prevented people from enrolling in state and federal programs. He decided to tackle these barriers by providing rides, helping to read and interpret forms, and finding access to computers. When people were able to overcome some of their physical challenges, Anthony says, The dignity of seeing what they could do kept them going." Read the full article here on page 31.
Feed America, 1 in 6 Americans goes hungry each day. No Kid Hungry tells us that more than 16 million - or 1 in 5 - kids lives in a household that struggles to put food on the table. A 2010 study by Huggies shows that 1 in 3 American moms have had to choose between diapers and food and some are reusing disposable diapers.
These combined statistics and a desire to help families never to have to choose between diapers and food, motivated me to begin a Share the Love cloth diaper bank in my local community. Through cloth diaper donations of new and used diapers, as well as diaper making materials, and detergent, it is possible to make a real difference in the lives of families facing these heart wrenching decisions.
Cloth diaper banks are only one part of the solution to a very complex problem, however. Anthony went on to build a career around reducing the effects of poverty, hunger, and homelessness. He talked about working with community groups to provide meals for the food insecure. Our discussion about food banks led me to a question I ask every holiday season - If we have Federal government programs such as SNAP and WIC that provide food assistance, why are all of these private sector food sources needed? Why are we donating food and holiday meals, instead of diapers, clothing, and hygiene items not covered through a SNAP/EBT food card?
Anthony referred me back to the barriers his friends faced in accessing food assistance. He then directed me to some numbers from Feeding America to put poverty into perspective:
Participation in federal and state food assistance programs vary by geographic area and by population. After studying the different information available through Feeding America, I thought it was very telling that only 59.4% of food-insecure households participated in at least on one of the three major Federal food assistance programs and 65% of the eligible working poor are enrolled in SNAP. It seems that many people who are going hungry or choosing between food and diapers may not be aware that they qualify for assistance or are overwhelmed by the application process.
Barriers to Full Participation in Food Assistance Programs May Include:
* State policies that make enrolling a challenging process.
* Poor coordination across programs
* Inadequate outreach
* Transportation Barriers
* Language Barriers
* Cultural Stigmas
It seems to me that perhaps the biggest obstacle to overcome is coordination of efforts. I am not suggesting in any way that there isn't a need for emergency food assistance, soup kitchens, holiday meal donations, etc. If 100% of food-insecure households participated in one or all of the Federal food assistance programs, however, it seems to me that this could make an important impact on not only diaper need, but other needs as well.
Food banks should offer help signing up for food assistance and provide information on cloth diaper banks. Cloth diaper banks should provide information on food bank locations and offer help signing up for food assistance. Food Assistance programs should refer clients to cloth diaper and emergency assistance. All should coordinate to avoid duplicating efforts.
For example, if a single mom with two in diapers receives assistance enrolling in WIC and SNAP, then most, if not all, of her family's food needs could be covered. If she also receives a loan of cloth diapers, she will save the cost of disposable diapers each month. If funds previously allocated towards disposable diaper and holiday meal donations were instead directed toward warm coats, winter boots, and hygiene items, then the coordinated efforts of multiple organizations could make a tremendous impact on this family.
Based on my reading, I believe there are 8 ways we can help overcome barriers to food assistance in our communities:
If you are a cloth diaper advocate like me, sharing affordable cloth diapering solutions, hosting cloth diaper banks, and donating cloth diapers are an important part of the solution to diaper need. So is helping families access food assistance.