Standing in the aisle of her local grocery store, Jacquelyn K. Clemmons had a decision to make.

Like so many weeks and months before, she weighed the options in her head: gas, or diapers? Bills, or diapers?

“It was tough,” said Clemmons, remembering the financial struggle she faced with her first child in 2003. “I normally had to skim from everything- including the grocery money to get diapers because it’s such an immediate need. There is no such thing as waiting until the next pay because you can’t wait until you are completely out.”

“For me, it was food or diapers,” she told the AFRO. She had another child in 2009 and, her income had increased, the dilemma wasn’t as acute.

And once they are out of diapers, the financial dilemma eased. “When the child gets potty-trained, the sky opens up and there is a hallelujah chorus,” she said.

But she’s not the only who’s struggled with the cost of disposable diapers.
According to a new study in the August edition of Pediatrics, 30 percent of women cannot keep an adequate supply of disposable diapers.

This means one out of every 12 babies faces increased risk for diaper rashes and other illnesses that arise from prolonged contact with soiled diapers.

The study included 877 pregnant women or mothers with children and showed that Black women and mothers between the ages of 20 and 44 were less likely to admit they need help affording diapers.

Clemmons, 30, now openly says she was one of those women.

“I didn’t want to borrow money for diapers,” she told the AFRO, adding that her commissioned pay in 2003 was an added burden. “When I got a bonus I would stock up on diapers so I wouldn’t have to feel bad if a check was smaller than expected.”

At home, Clemmons said she resorted to diaper-free time for her daughter. Sitting the child on a towel, she would hope for the best. She was unaware of city efforts to help women in her position.

“It was easier for me to throw two or three towels in the washing machine,” she said.

Clemmons considered cloth diapers, but realized daycare centers and babysitters weren’t too keen on being intimate with baby excrement–and neither was she. The idea was nixed three months into motherhood when she had to go back to work.

According to the study, diaper need causes untold amounts of stress for women, which in turn negatively impacts child development.

Maternity support workers in low-income areas of the country agree.

“We know that when a mother is stressed, the health outcomes for the child are drastic,” said Corinne Cannon, founder of the D.C. Diaper Bank that distributes 35,000 and 40,000 diapers each year to families via 15 different organizations throughout the District, Maryland, and Virginia.

Families receive the diapers from distribution partners such as the Central Union Mission and Little Lights Urban Ministries.

The Washington, D.C.-based organization was created in 2010 after Cannon began to think about mothers and their children lacking emotional and financial support.

“I started asking around, doing research, and calling organizations. We said we can give time and we can give money. They all said ‘we need diapers.’”

Cannon’s next move was to find a local diaper bank and send materials. To her surprise the closest facility to the Washington, D.C. area was in Pennsylvania.

“It’s something as simple as a diaper but if you give a family diapers it’s one more thing they don’t have to worry about. It frees up dollars because food stamps and WIC funds don’t pay for diapers. Money can then go to other things like the light bill, extra food, and rent.”

Cloth diapers aren’t an option for low-income mothers, Cannon said, because most don’t have in-home washing machines and, by law, can’t wash them in public laundromats.

“We didn’t mean to start a non-profit, but the need was there,” she said. “The reality is that in this metro area we’ve got many different groups of women that are in need.”

And the need is the same in Maryland, where the National Center for Children in Poverty (NCCP) determined that 33 percent of young children in the state are living in homes with income beneath the federal poverty level.

“We see about 1,000 clients a year in our four centers and most of them are indigent,” said Carol A. Clews, executive director of the Baltimore Center for Pregnancy Concerns, founded in 1980. “Many of these mothers start off from a very bad place when they are having these babies.”

“You don’t think about what everything costs until you have to start purchasing diapers all the time and see how often you have to change these babies.”

There are four Centers for Pregnancy Concerns throughout the Baltimore area including St. Rita’s Center in Dundalk and St. Brigid’s Center in Canton. There are centers in Arbutus and Essex, Md. where families can directly pick up diapers, formula, and clothing as it is available.

According to Clews, the Centers distribute more than 2,700 diapers on a month basis.

“We see African Americans, Caucasians, Hispanics, and a lot of Muslim clients,” said Clews. “We do not discriminate at all, we see everybody.”

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Alexis Taylor

AFRO Staff Writer