In the fall of 2012, Doug Adair attended a social justice speaking series at St. Augustine’s Chapel at which Brian Diller, the then-executive director of St. Luke’s Community House, was speaking. “My wife and I had been in Nashville just a little while, and I wanted to get involved somewhere,” says Doug. After hearing Brian speak, Doug approached him to see how he could help out at St. Luke’s. “Brian said, ‘You want to help? Get me some diapers,'” Doug recalls, and thus, the seeds of Nashville Diaper Connection (NashDiaper) were planted.
Eight years and millions of diapers later, and the diaper bank Doug founded and still runs is still going strong. Thanks to countless volunteers, donations — of both diapers and dollars, and agency partners that then distribute the goods, the Nashville nonprofit ensures babies’ bottoms are covered and this massive need for many Middle Tennessee families is being met.
Meet Doug Adair along with NashDiaper’s volunteer coordinator Carey Morgan — both local heroes!
Why is there a need for diapers?
Doug: There are no federal, state or local safety nets for diapers. [Back in 2012,] you’d call Tennessee 2-1-1 for non-physical emergencies. There were 187 places you could get food if you were hungry and emergency financial assistance. There were two organizations that said they could help with diapers. One was closed, and the other put you on the waiting list. And then they’d give you 50 diapers and that was to last for four months. The more I looked into it, the more I got ticked. I had to either work to change the laws or put diapers on butts. I figured changing the laws would induce heartburn, and helping moms and babies would be more satisfying.
Carey: I couldn’t believe such an essential product wasn’t covered, and they aren’t cheap! Typically a month’s worth of diapers costs around $85 per child — that is a big part of a family’s take-home income, and sometimes families have to decide between food and diapers. One in 3 families experience diaper need, and without diapers, parents can’t access daycare to go to work or school. It is a huge challenge. Our goal is to leave “No Child Wet Behind” in Nashville.
So, Doug, how did you launch the full-fledged diaper bank?
We cleared out a spot in our garage and started buying diapers and providing them to St. Luke’s. I also did some research about starting a diaper bank and learned about the National Diaper Bank Network, which had started the year before. It took over a year to qualify to become a member of this great organization that supports diaper banks across the country. We had our first diaper drive in June of 2013. That year, we gave away 19,000 diapers. The second year, we gave away 69,000. By year three, we had outgrown the garage and rented a building in The Nations. After nearly five years, we passed the 1 millionth diaper donated milestone. Last year we moved to an even larger location as we worked to meet more of the need in Nashville. We thought we would have our first million-diaper year in 2020. The tornadoes and COVID changed that. It will likely be closer to 2 million diapers we give away this year alone.
How do you acquire the diapers and donations?
Doug: About 50% of our diapers on any given year are donated. Our largest donor is Kimberly Clark — Huggies. Last year they gave us 336,000 diapers. Dollar General gave us 75,000 diapers as well as financial donations. Our average community collections for the past couple of years have been running about 60,000 diapers a year. Last month, though, Crosspoint Church collected 47,000 diapers in one service! So far this year, our community donations have been 123,794 diapers.
Carey, how did you get involved as NashDiaper’s volunteer coordinator?
Carey: I met Doug years ago when he and his wife, Susan, moved to Nashville through our kids’ schools. They jumped right into volunteering at the school level, and we’ve been friends since then. I had volunteered with NashDiaper a few times over the years. After my last daughter graduated high school, I was figuring out what organization I wanted to serve as I had been super involved in public school volunteering for so long. One day Doug called and asked me to meet him for coffee, and the next thing I knew I accepted a part-time job with him at NashDiaper! My first week was the week of the tornadoes — it has been baptism by fire!
What does your role entail?
Carey: This is an interesting question because I started during two major crises: the devastating tornadoes followed immediately by COVID-19, so nothing has been normal. Normally, I would be scheduling and managing groups of volunteers to come into our warehouse and wrap diapers. We’ve worked with Hands On Nashville to schedule individuals or small groups to come in a few times a week for the past few years. Additionally, we have companies and schools who send in groups to wrap with us — it is a great team-building event. We also do off-site wrapping events at several companies who are wonderful supporters of NashDiaper. Currently, though, this looks a lot different as we haven’t had volunteers come in since the “safer at home” policy went into effect. Our needs have more than doubled, but we can’t have our amazing volunteers coming in to help us wrap.
Doug: At our wrapping events, we break down diaper packs and repackage them in counts of 25. That way our diapers go further and each family gets the same number.
How are you all still meeting these needs during the pandemic?
Carey: We brainstormed ideas and decided to pilot “Wrapping at Home” with four families. It went really well, so I reached out to my neighborhood hoping to get three or four more families, and wound up with more than 20 willing to help! So this week, I have been delivering around 1,000 diapers to each family and then picking them up a few days later. The beauty of home wraps is only the people who live there wrap, so they don’t have to worry about the distancing. We just ask that they use PPE and wrap the diapers in a clean room without pets. We have a total of 25 families wrapping with us now, and we credit them with giving us the ability to serve so many families in Nashville who lost their homes, businesses, jobs and income to these two very devastating events.
Doug: Carey’s masterful. She organized it in a way that’s covering a significant percentage of our wrapping needs.
In light of COVID and with so many of your partnering agencies closed, how are you getting the diapers to those who need them?
Doug: We have had a partnership with PENCIL and Metro Nashville Public Schools for about five years. As soon as MNPS announced meal and food distribution sites, we worked with PENCIL to coordinate so that at every meal and food distribution point, families could get diapers if they needed them. We are now distributing to 26 MNPS schools.
How can people support the efforts of NashDiaper?
Doug: What we need is money. Financial donations go so much further than diaper donations. We buy our diapers in 53-foot trucks, we don’t pay sales tax, and we can get two and a half times the number of diapers that you can buy retail for the same dollar amount. Thank goodness for the Community Foundation’s Tornado Response Fund and the Nashville COVID-19 Response Fund — we got a total of $35,000 from those relief funds, but that covers less than half of the diapers we distributed in March and April. A lot of supporters have stepped up, but we need more donations as we try to meet this vastly increased need.
Carey: The most impactful thing people can do right now is donate on our website — NashvilleDiaperConnection.org. We need to purchase a lot more diapers to help as many families as we can. We hope to welcome back volunteers in the near future once we can do so in a responsible way. I would encourage people to continue to check our website to find out when we can have small groups come back in.
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