Sister Mary Johnice Rzadkiewicz gets nervous at this time of year. The turkeys have yet to arrive. Supplies are low, and cupboards to the baby ministry at the Response to Love Center have too many empty shelves.
She has faith the turkeys and trimmings will come through. She will need 50 for the East Side center’s Thanksgiving dinner, and as people’s thoughts turn to giving, the dinners have always come together. Supplies, too, will bounce back. Early fall is one of the toughest times as the center sometimes dips into its budget to cover the cost of food for those in need.
But baby supplies are always a stretch. Diapers don’t exactly top people’s minds when they think about giving. But the need for outreach centers such as Response to Love is great.
It’s a strain on young mothers and caregiver grandparents that often goes unnoticed.
“It is stressful,” Rzadkiewicz said. “You see a mother come in here who’s in tears and just says, ‘I really need diapers, Sister. Can you help me?’ ”
Here’s another fact that many people don’t realize, Rzadkiewicz says: Neither food stamps nor the nutrition program for women, infants and children cover diapers, leaving food pantries to fill in the gap.
“We love diapers,” said Stephanie Lawson, youth program supervisor at the Food Bank of Western New York. “Diapers are a hot commodity around here. That is gold.”
People just don’t tend to think of diapers when they think of the Food Bank, Lawson said, despite the fact that the regional agency helps distribute diapers and other baby supplies to 38 food pantries in four counties.
And diapers aren’t cheap, even for the Food Bank – which uses grants to purchase diapers at lower costs. For parents, it’s even more difficult. Keeping a child in diapers can feel like throwing a quarter into the diaper pail at every change. It adds up, and can put a significant strain on limited budgets.
“They’re the last thing on people’s minds,” Kamil Johnson said, “but the first thing on mothers’ minds.”
Johnson has been there. She’s weeks away from giving birth to her second child and had to leave her job after her first was born. She clips coupons, waits for sales and avoids corner stores; but with a limited budget, she can only buy small packs of diapers at a time. There’s no economy of scale when you’re scraping together $7 to $15 to buy a pack that will last little more than a week.
There’s research to suggest it’s a significant need. A study in the journal Pediatrics surveyed 877 parents in New Haven, Conn., and found that more than 27 percent worried they didn’t have enough diapers to change their babies as often as they needed.
Back at the Response to Love Center on Kosciuszko Street, Rzadkiewicz opened up the wooden cabinets where they keep the baby supplies. Last week, there were jars of baby food, formula and diapers, but there were plenty of empty shelves, too. “Our cupboards are bare right now,” she said.
Rzadkiewicz founded Response to Love in 1985, but it wasn’t until a few years ago that the center started the baby ministry.
Today, the center helps an average of 33 babies a month, splitting up packs of diapers and giving out supplies as it gets donations. “We saw the mothers coming through,” Rzadkiewicz recalled, “and we said, ‘We need to respond to this.’ ” She relies on people like you responding, too.
Note: Since writing this, I’ve heard from people who would like to donate. Here is the contact information for the agencies mentioned in this column:
• Response to Love Center: 130 Kosciuszko St. Buffalo, NY 14212, attn: Sr. Johnice. Additional information about dropping off donations is available here: responsetolove.org.
• Food Bank of WNY: Donations can be mailed or dropped off at 91 Holt St., Buffalo, NY 14206. Additional information is available at www.foodbankwny.org.
• Buffalo City Mission: The Buffalo City Mission also collects diapers for its programs. More information is available online at: www.buffalocitymission.org.