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'If you can't afford food, you can't afford diapers': ND's first diaper bank will help fulfill big need

Pallets of diapers await distribution on Wednesday, Sept. 27, at the Great Plains Food Bank in Fargo, which has joined a national network of diaper banks. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor1 / 2
A forklift unloads diapers contributed by Hornbacher's supermarkets at the Great Plains Food Bank in Fargo. The Food Bank has become the state's first diaper bank, part of a national network.2 / 2

FARGO — Food is essential for life, but for parents of young children, diapers are equally essential. For that reason, the Fargo-based Great Plains Food Bank has expanded its offerings to become part of a national program that provides free diapers to needy families.

The Great Plains Food Bank will operate North Dakota's first diaper bank, part of a national network of diaper banks operating in 46 states. The diapers will be distributed through the Food Bank's 216 partner agencies in North Dakota and Clay County, Minn.

The diaper bank was launched this month with a donation of 100,000 diapers from Hornbacher's supermarkets as part of a September promotion with Huggies. Hornbacher's donated a day's worth of diapers for every package of Huggies purchased through Sept 24.

"I love it and our agencies are going to love it," said JoAnn Matthews, operations director for the Food Bank. "Diapers are super expensive. If you can't afford food, you can't afford diapers." Diapers cannot be purchased with food stamps.

The Food Bank received its shipment of 1,025 cases of diapers last week and the first orders will go out next week. The first orders were from the Learning Patch in Fargo and the Sargent County Food Pantry, which ordered nine cases each, and Community Action in Jamestown, which ordered six cases.

So that all its partner agencies will have an equal opportunity to obtain diapers, the Food Bank has now established a limit of five cases of diapers per order.

Although about 95 percent of the products the Food Bank distributes are food, it also provides non-food items, such as toothpaste, shampoo, feminine hygiene products, toilet paper and paper towels. It has occasionally received donations of diapers, but Matthews said diapers are "not an overproduced item," so that is rare.

"Once in a while, we might get a pallet of diapers," she said. "We haven't had any in the last three years, so this is really awesome."

How diaper banks began

The Great Plains Food Bank will be part of the National Diaper Bank Network, an organization created in 2010 by local diaper banks in four states. The network has grown to include 315 member diaper banks in 46 states, Washington D.C., and Guam.

The roots of the organization can be traced to Tucson, Ariz., where a small consulting firm in 1994 held a diaper drive during the holiday season to help a local nursery that provided crisis services. The drive was successful and turned into an annual event. In 2000, the diaper drive was spun into an independent nonprofit organization, the Diaper Bank of Southern Arizona, believed to be the first diaper bank in the United States.

In 2004, a social worker in New Haven, Conn., adopted the Arizona model to provide diapers to poor families in the state and today that organization provides 2.5 million diapers annually. The two pioneering diaper banks inspired similar efforts elsewhere.

Representatives of the National Diaper Bank Network contacted the Great Plains Food Bank in August to ask if it would be interested in acting as a diaper bank for North Dakota. It agreed and officially became part of the network on Sept. 13.

"If they're going to offer free diapers, I'm going to take them," Matthews said. "I was excited."

The Food Bank's clients order the diapers online, just like they do food and other products. The initial shipment of diapers includes size 3, 5, and 6 diapers. Matthews said she expected the initial shipment to be exhausted within three months.