When Erin Campbell was nursing her second child, she came across a news blurb about diaper need in the United States.
"It said one in three families struggles with diaper need," Campbell told TODAY Parents. "Families will end up having to reuse a dirty diaper or scoop a poop out and put it back on a kid. And as a mom, I realized this is so messed up. ... It just crushed me and I just started crying."
Diaper need is defined as the "lack of a sufficient supply of diapers to keep an infant or child clean, dry and healthy," according to the National Diaper Bank Network. Experts and advocates say it's been a concern for decades, but the COVID-19 pandemic has sent the need skyrocketing.
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Joanne Goldblum, chief executive officer of the National Diaper Bank Network, said the organization has seen demand for diapers increase by as much as 300% in some areas of the country.
"It's honestly exponential growth in terms of the number of people asking for help," Goldblum said. "We're hearing from so many families where both parents have lost their jobs and there just isn't enough money."
Campbell, the mom who was horrified to learn about the severity of diaper need, went on to found an organization that would eventually become the Athens Area Diaper Bank, which distributes diapers to organizations in Athens, Georgia. Those organizations then pass the diapers on to parents in need. Campbell said the Athens Area Diaper Bank has already distributed more than 90,000 diapers this year, far more than it usually does by this point.
Several diaper bank operators told TODAY Parents that diaper shortages around the country, created by disruptions in supply chains and bulk buying, have made it more difficult for many families to maintain a steady supply of diapers for their children.
"Toilet paper isn't the only thing that was hoarded. Diapers were as well," said Jan Touslee, founder of the Nappie Project in Colorado. "Manufacturers of diapers are working 24 hours a day to replenish supplies, but shelves are bare. ... Some parents stocked up, and I don't blame them for doing that. But what that did is put even more pressure on families that we serve who can't go online and order bulk packs of diapers from Costco or Target."
Many diaper banks, which typically distribute diapers to organizations like food pantries and shelters, are taking a more hands-on role in diaper distribution to make sure that families can get what they need. Some have created new partnerships to work with more agencies and organizations; others have started working with schools or even delivering directly to families in need.
The diaper bank operators who spoke to TODAY said that in addition to the increase in demand, they've also seen donations rise. This has helped them buy more diapers as they become available.
"People have been really, really generous, and there has been an increase," Goldblum said. "It's safe to say that banks across the country have seen increases in donations, but they're still really far from being able to meet the need."
"Everybody's stepping up big time," she said. "But one of the biggest concerns of mine is that this (pandemic) will last more than just a few more weeks and people are going to stop donating — whether it's charity fatigue or just their own wallets getting a little tighter from their own situations. ...
"I'm worried that it's going to get increasingly hard for us to keep up with the demand."