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 / Updated  / Source: TODAY Contributor
By Lisa Flam

Imagine having to choose between spending your money on diapers or putting it toward the family food bill or rent.

Parents who experience “diaper need,” or those who don’t have enough diapers for their children, may be forced to stay home from work if their child care center requires diapers, advocates say. Or, they may feel they have no choice but to leave their babies in diapers longer than they should or to reuse soiled diapers, which can lead to diaper rash.

The National Diaper Bank Network launched its fourth annual Diaper Need Awareness Week on Monday to help get more diapers to needy families. Click here to find out where you can receive or donate diapers in your area.

“The goal is to raise awareness of the issue of diaper need and to raise funds and diapers to be able to help more kids across the country,” Joanne Goldblum, executive director of the National Diaper Bank Network, told TODAY.com.

There are more than 5 million children under age 3 living at or below the poverty level in the United States, she said, and “a number of those families struggle.”

“The need is great,” Goldblum says. “Our estimate is that one in three American mothers struggle with this issue.”

Community volunteers play a vital role in the success of diaper banks. Pictured are DC Diaper Bank volunteers repackaging diapers to be distributed to families in need in the Washington, D.C. area.DC Diaper Bank

She was one of the authors of a 2013 study that found nearly one-third of low-income mothers lacked an adequate supply of diapers. It costs $70 to $80 per month to keep a child in diapers.

The National Diaper Bank Network, launched in 2011, has more than 260 banks around the country that distribute millions of diapers each year. Although the number of banks has grown, the demand is still there.

“In many states, we don’t cover the need in the entire state,” Goldblum said. “Diaper banks, even the large ones, are still growing to be able to meet the need in their communities.”

As part of awareness week, supporters are sharing news of their efforts with #DiaperNeed on social media, and holding diaper drives, fundraisers and other events. The network is also seeking a greater number of government proclamations recognizing the awareness week, and has compiled a list of events taking place around the country.

“Diaper Delivery Day” is always a welcome event at diaper banks. Volunteers at the Tri-Cities Diaper Bank in Yakima, Wash., unload pallets of diapers that will be repackaged and distributed to families in need.Tri-Cities Diaper Bank

Among the week’s activities is a diaper drive sponsored by the International Club at Texas High School in Texarkana, Texas. Teachers donated close to 200 diapers on the first day.

“It’s one of the many things that people need and they have to really ration, and sometimes we are just not aware of that,” said teacher Maryann Fricks, the club’s adviser.

“You would think that people would realize, ‘Wow, diapers are expensive,’ and if people are needy, they probably can’t afford them,” she added, “but very seldom is there just a focus on just collecting diapers.”

Boxes of donated diapers arrive at Nestlings Diaper Bank, which serves Western Michigan.Nestlings Diaper Bank

Fricks felt the students were surprised to learn of the need for diapers. “I don’t think they’ve ever thought of it,” she said, adding, “like most of us.”

TODAY.com contributor Lisa A. Flam is a news and lifestyles reporter in New York. Follow her on Twitter.