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Winter Berry, DO, in her office stacked with diapers.

Upstate pediatricians see spike in diaper need as families struggle during pandemic

Upstate pediatricians ask the families they see a lot of questions during appointments. Since the coronavirus pandemic began in mid-March, the answer to one of those questions – do you need diapers – is a resounding “yes” for more and more parents and caregivers.

For several years, the Upstate Pediatric and Adolescent Center has partnered with local nonprofit the Central New York Diaper Bank to distribute diapers to families in need. The CNY Diaper Bank, which was founded in 2016, distributed more than one million diapers in 2019. Despite being a necessity for infants and children, diapers are not covered by food stamps.

Local diaper need has risen about 70 percent in 2020 as families struggle because of the pandemic. In the first five and a half months of this year, the diaper bank distributed more than 767,000 diapers, which would put it on pace to distribute 1.6 million diapers in 2020. Pediatrician Winter Berry, DO, said her office (UPAC) is seeing the same upward trend, including many families experiencing diaper need for the first time.

“There’s been a very clear increase in need in our community. I’ve personally seen an increase in families’ unemployment, job loss and food insecurity, which match national trends,” Berry said. “Along with all of those things, diaper need also rises.”

During well-child and other office visits, Berry’s office screens families with children younger than 3 for diaper need. The office does not distribute diapers outside of those visits.

In addition to seeing more families in need, the office is giving out more, smaller-size diapers as access to normal distribution sites has become more complicated. Some of the diaper bank’s 23 partner agencies have had to limit their services because of COVID-19 so the diaper bank has been trying new distribution options including several recent drive-by pickups, Berry said. Berry, who is vice president of the board of directors for the diaper bank, said the nonprofit was able to help about 400 children during those events.

“Diapers are a critical need,” said Diaper Bank Founder Michela Hugo. “Babies cannot stay healthy without clean diapers. When our partners are able to provide a steady stream of diapers, the services they provide to families are more comprehensive because they are filling this basic need. The diapers can also serve as an incentive for participation. In the case of UPAC, diapers incentivize families to attend their well-child appointments, which helps babies stay on track for vaccinations and developmental screenings.”

Berry has been distributing diapers to families in need out of her office since 2015. Her distribution process started small with a grant from the Upstate Foundation. Her efforts began about the same time the CNY Diaper Bank was getting off the ground and the two quickly combined efforts. Every couple of weeks, Berry drives to the diaper bank in Liverpool and loads up the back of her SUV with diapers to bring back to UPAC.

“Our community had a considerably underrecognized and unmet need before the CNY diaper bank was established,” said Berry, noting that the nonprofit relies heavily on community support to purchase diapers in bulk from manufacturers.

As patient traffic to UPAC increases as pandemic restrictions ease, Berry anticipates that diaper need will also steadily rise. UPAC and Berry’s relationship with the diaper bank will continue to help.

“This is an incredibly important relationship for Upstate because I think it meets a very tangible need for a community that has been challenged by poverty,” Berry said. “And poverty can go hand in hand with other social determinants of health, which include diaper need. And diaper need itself can extend far past the struggle of diapering your child into things like caring for your mental health, child wellbeing and development, ability to attend childcare, parental unemployment, etc.

“The CNY Diaper Bank’s ongoing support has made it possible for us to meet the needs of families challenged by poverty and diaper need.”

To learn more about the CNY Diaper Bank visit www.cnydiaperbank.org.