WASHINGTON -- Capitol Hill resident Corinne Cannon discovered the true difficulties of parenting when she had her son in 2009.
Despite reading all the right books, starting a college fund and having the love and support of family, she and her husband were overjoyed, yet overwhelmed, with caring for an infant.
"I was blown away by how unprepared I felt to take care of a baby," Cannon says.
Like most, she got the hang of things, and after enduring the first six or seven months, she started looking for ways to help other mothers who might need assistance.
"As I was struggling with this, I realized that other women were struggling with it too, and I thought about how difficult this would be if you didn't have the resources you needed to care for a child -- how much harder it would be if you didn't know where that next diaper was going to come from, where that next meal was going to come from, or where you were sleeping in a week or two," says Cannon, 35.
She began reaching out to organizations, asking them what they needed. She was prepared to volunteer her time, give money or do whatever she could to help other parents.
Over and over she heard one word: diapers.
Diapers are a necessity for all babies, yet they are not covered by food stamps or WIC -- a realization that stunned Cannon.
Families in poverty sometimes keep a baby in one diaper all day, Cannon says. When a child is left in a diaper for too long, diaper rash can occur, which can cause a great deal of pain and sensitivity for a baby -- and a great deal of heartache for parents.
"The idea of having a baby and having a baby cry because they're in pain, or knowing in the back of your brain, ‘The baby's going to wake up and need a diaper change and I don't have that diaper,' it just creates this level of anxiety and this level of stress," Cannon says.
Boston Children's Hospital estimates a baby uses between six to 10 diapers a day, or about 2,000 to 3,000 diapers each year. Diapers range from around 20 cents each for the smallest sizes to 37 cents for the larger sizes, meaning that keeping a child is diapers can cost more than $1,000 a year.
Cannon started looking for different diaper banks in the D.C. area where she could volunteer -- but the closest one was in Philadelphia.
That's when she decided to open her own, and on her son's first birthday, she incorporated the D.C. Diaper Bank.
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Since opening its warehouse "doors" in 2010, D.C. Diaper Bank has reached about 2,000 families in the D.C. area -- and some from up to 70 miles away -- with roughly 60,000 to 75,000 diapers a month. The organization works with 18 social- service agencies to distribute the diapers to families in need.
Cannon recently started collecting and distributing other baby essentials, including formula, baby food, baby wipes and more. But she says the "magical" thing about diapers is that they are a gateway resource.
"A family that is hesitant to come in because they need food, or is scared to come in because they need medical help, will come in for diapers," she says.
Recently, a father of three called Cannon because two of his kids desperately needed diapers, but he didn't have the money to buy them. She arranged for one of the partnering social-services agencies to meet with the dad and do an intake.
"It turns out yes, he definitely did need diapers for his kids -- but he also needed food; he needed case management; he needed medical help; and that diaper became the gateway to get him into other social services," she says.
Regardless of circumstances, Cannon says, all parents have a common reaction when they receive diapers.
"They're just relieved. You can see it on their faces when they get the diapers."
Cannon collects diapers for her bank in a variety of ways. Some come to her through drives; others are from a national network and corporate sponsor.
"We actually just received 280,000 diapers last Friday. A 53-foot truck pulled up and it was floor-to-ceiling diapers. It was one of those sights you never think you are going to see, but I couldn't have been happier about it," she says.
Other times, she receives diapers from parents whose children have grown out of certain sizes, or those who hold smaller-scale drives.
"We actually have a lot of people who do diaper drives for first and second birthdays. Instead of bringing presents, [guests] bring diapers."
Cannon says the organization is just shy of distributing 1 million diapers -- but more needs to be done.
"While we've distributed thousands and thousands of diapers and have helped thousands and thousands of families, the need is far, far greater than we're able to hit at this point," she says, adding that there is a waiting list of 25 service organizations that want to work with D.C. Diaper Bank.
Until all of the diaper needs are met, Cannon encourages supporters and struggling parents to discuss the realities and the difficulties of parenting in poverty.
"We want people to start thinking about it and really hone in on it. What we have found is that a lot of our volunteers and supporters are parents or aunts and uncles who have little people in their life and know the physical reality of being a parent or caring for a child, and they can really emphasize what it would be to not have all you need for that child," she says.
"I think parenting is the most difficult job in the entire world when everything is going 100 percent perfectly. When it's not going perfectly, it's nearly impossible."
Corinne was recently nominated as a Johnson & Johnson Champion of Care and is in the running to win a trip to the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. You can vote for Corinne, and read stories of what others are doing, on the Champions of Care website.
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