What if you had a baby and couldn’t afford to supply daycare with the 4 to 6 diapers needed during the day for your child to be able to attend? What if the cost of about twelve diapers per day came to almost $80 a month; which had to come out of your food budget because government assistance programs don’t cover diapers? What if the poorest 20 percent of Americans who buy diapers have to spend 14 percent of their income on diapers? If you can envision this, then you will understand what diaper need is.
What if 2 in 5 menstruating people reported missing work for lack of funds to purchase supplies? What if government subsidies considered menstrual products like pet food and didn’t allow benefits? If you can empathize with what this might do to you as a human being trying to get by, then you might understand how period poverty would feel.
Birth of An Idea
Moms Helping Moms was founded in 2011 when new mother Bridget Cutler took a look around her Hoboken community and noticed the disparity between those that have enough and those that are in need. Cutler remembers being home with her one-month-old when she read about a mother giving up her child because she couldn’t bear to hear the cries of hunger. She also talks about being in local moms’ groups where new mothers shared their abundance of baby supplies and barely used baby clothes. It struck her that maybe there were others in greater need than those in her immediate circle. These were the thoughts that drove Cutler to action.
Give It Away Now
In 2011 Cutler began gathering all the surplus baby items she could from friends, neighbors and acquaintances – and then she did a remarkable thing. Cutler put up flyers all over Hoboken advertising the giveaway of baby items from her own personal garage. It was during one of her garage drives that Megan Deaton walked into Cutler’s garage to see how she could help. This was not only the beginning of a wonderful friendship; it was the beginning of Moms Helping Moms as a grassroots organization.
The Concept Expands
Moms Helping Moms is dedicated to helping underserved families in New Jersey with equitable access to the essentials they need to give their children a safe and healthy start. They collect diapers, period products and baby supplies for distribution through the state of New Jersey. They also now have a Healthy Periods and Literacy Program as well.
Lessons In Poverty
But wait, we live in New Jersey. Sure, there is poverty in America, but not in the garden state? The numbers are sobering. In our state when you look at children under the age of five you will learn that 14.2 precent are currently living in poverty – compared to the national average of 18.7 percent. It’s also interesting to note that 24 percent of children living in a single parent home are living below the poverty level. Approximately one-third of New Jersey’s population is currently estimated to be living in poverty. These are the facts.
Cutler and Deaton continued to distribute supplies out of Cutler’s Hoboken garage for a couple of years. With their past educational backgrounds in finance and teaching, these two continued to learn and leverage their discoveries into best practices for the diaper distribution. They made friends with local church groups and organizations to spread the word. As their work in the community grew, so did their families and they each moved from Hoboken to the suburbs. They may have outgrown Hoboken in one sense – but their ability to impact the community and their passion for doing good works continued to expand.
We Could Be Heroes
2014 was an important year for Moms Helping Moms. It was the year Cutler was named a CNN Hero. This recognition generated much of the necessary seed money to take the next step and become a 501C non-profit and to open up the warehouse as an official distribution center. The organization has grown to 8 part-time employees and over 400 volunteers. They have 90 plus partners in the state, which include; homeless shelters, church groups, and food pantries. They have at least one partner in every county, although their focus currently is more in northern NJ. They are looking to expand service and they have a goal of securing a van to facilitate distribution to a broader area consistently.
Fulfilling Clients Needs
Moms Helping Moms has a simple business model that they have perfected through the twelve years of doing this. Their partner groups such as shelters or church groups, do the vetting of the potential client. Once they have been accepted as a partner organization, they are given the password for the Moms Helping Moms website where they can log in and fill out a form to request what their clients need.. These order forms are picked up from the office computer and fulfilled at the 3,000-square-foot Warren warehouse. Cutler proudly showed me her favorite feature of the warehouse – the loading dock! This elevated dock also elevated their donations because it has enabled them to receive very large donations such as truckloads of diapers, menstrual products and baby hygiene items. The ability to receive pallets was life-changing.
A Success Story
Roselin Antoine is one of the 8 part-time employees on staff and has been working here for two years. She was first introduced to the group through her church. Having grown up one of nine children in a third-world country, she understands about going without. Ros said she initially couldn’t believe this woman was just letting people into her garage just to take things they needed; then she decided she wanted to be a part of that. She shared a story with me about a woman who used to walk to the distribution center to get diapers for her child so she could take them to daycare and she could go to school. She watched this woman; day after day, year after year until one day the woman finished her degree and got a job as a nurse. She now owns her own home. Ros’ face lights up when she tells this story, feeling a bit of the success as her own. She tells me that through Moms Helping Moms she has truly seen the value and the meaning of the word” community.” Every bag she packs she packs with intent. She prepares the supplies with dignity and likes to slip a little extra something in for the mom like a perfume sample.
I am told Ros has to be told to go home at the end of the day from work. This doesn’t surprise me. Passion is in the air here, or maybe the water too. When you ask Bridget or Megan why they do this the answers are very similar. They want to help babies, they want to make it so another mother can sleep a little better at night, they just want to take a weight off a stranger’s shoulder. Bridget sees the diaper shortage and period poverty issues as really the same problem. And, it is a problem that has a solution.
In September 2022 the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced a new pilot program to distribute diapers to low-income families and help reduce their economic burden. As part of this new program, HHS, through the Administration for Children and Families (ACF) will award $10 million in FY22 and $20 million in FY23 funding to Community Service Block Grant state associations and tribes to provide diapers and diapering supplies to families in need through the Diaper Distribution Demonstration and Research Pilot. According to Jill Jones Borak, Director of Government Relations for the National Diaper Network/Alliance for Period Supplies,” DDDRP is the first-ever federal funding to address diaper needs, and is the result of years of advocacy from the National Diaper Bank Network.”
There’s an alphabet soup of bills pending for diaper relief and period poverty. But not all bills are good bills. Currently, period products and diapers cannot be obtained via the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as food stamps, nor through the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC). On the surface, the expansion of SNAP may seem like a logical fix. Lacey Gero, Manager of State Policy Bank, National Diaper Bank Network/Alliance for Period Supplies explained it to me this way,” A3544 and AR 106 are bills related to diapers that have been introduced this session. The National Diaper Bank Network does not support bills that aim to include diapers in SNAP and WIC. Adding diapers to SNAP and WIC would be a disservice to the families we help. This idea exposes a broken way of thinking: ‘We only have $X to help people living in poverty.’ We know that current funding for SNAP and WIC does not provide enough food to get a family through the month. Plus, too many people in need are excluded from these programs. Even with the essential aid supplied through SNAP and WIC, more than 38 million people, including 12 million children, are food insecure. Adding hygiene products to SNAP and WIC will keep struggling people exactly where they are now: Forced to choose between buying diapers or groceries.”
The NJ State Legislature has several pending bills regarding period poverty. AR1935 & A1938 would put menstrual products in food pantries for low-income residents. Another bill, A3211 would give access to period products in homeless shelters. Representative M. Teresa Ruiz has introduced a bill making May 28 of each year Menstrual Equity Day. Awareness of the existence of period poverty is almost as big an issue as the actual problem. It’s a natural human process – we need to acknowledge it and talk about it before we can begin to solve it.
The Need Keeps Increasing
Cutler is now the Co-Executive Director of Moms Helping Moms and Deaton is also a Co-Executive Director. “I never thought this would be my job,” Cutler laughs when she describes her life now. The passion and drive that it takes to sustain the momentum needed for this organization is impressive. She shared these statistics with me:
2021 2022 Percent Increase
Diapers 549,322 834,538 52 percent
Period Products 105,741 136,345 29 percent
Individuals 101,230 128,549 27 percent
Clearly, the problem is only growing and the less we do about it the greater it has the potential to become.
Ways to Help
The goal of any good non-profit is to become obsolete, to solve the problem that brought about its very existence. Nothing would make Cutler or Deaton happier than to have a level playing field in NJ; for every child to have the same opportunities. “We can’t change the schools and we can’t change the government, but this is what little bit we can do,” said Deaton. Raising awareness is a critical part of both the diaper need and period poverty issue. Advocating for positive legislation is also something anyone of us with access to a keyboard can do. The National Diaper Bank Network has a great section on how to impact legislation in your area. One could also host a local diaper or period product drive to raise awareness. Many of our neighbors may simply not know this is a problem for so many New Jerseyans. May 22 – 28, 2023, is Period Poverty Awareness Week. This could be a good time to take action. Monetary donations are always welcome. Moms Helping Moms is able to purchase diapers at about one-third the cost of the store so they can stretch a dollar like a boss mom!
There’s so much good stuff happening here it’s hard to include in one article. They accept loose diapers, which is unusual. They purchased a shrink wrap machine and can repackage these diapers by size so no diaper is wasted. With every diaper distribution bag, they include a book as part of their Early Literacy Program. They also pack a sheet in every bag “Diaper Time is Talk Time,” encouraging new moms to interact positively with their babies. These sheets are available in English and Spanish. Making life better for babies and moms is always the focus.
Cutler and Deaton continue their work and continue to leverage partnerships and alliances that will assist the underserved women and children of New Jersey. After twelve years, they have watched the need grow. The news is grim some days, it’s hard to stand by and watch the cruelty and lack of empathy we are seeing in the media. So, when people like Cutler and Deaton come along, it’s hard not to stop, take a breath and feel better about the world. It’s pretty obvious how Moms Helping Moms is making the world a better place, but when I asked Cutler what impact the organization has had on her personal life her answer was interesting. She said she felt it was important to teach her kids to help others, she hopes they learn that lesson. Kids learn by watching so I can honestly say – she has nothing to worry about here. Deaton told me, ‘Our mission is to empower people to support themselves. We offer a hand-up – not a handout. This is the one small thing that we can do.”
About the Author/s
Sue graduated from Rutgers University with a B.A. in English back when you could still get a degree for reading great literature. She spent nearly 40 years working in the Sales & Marketing field with companies ranging from non-profits to small businesses to Fortune 100 Corporations. Most recently retired after nearly 20 years with S & P Global, she is now free to pursue her true passions for hiking, writing and photography. Sue was born and raised in New York State. As a New Jersey transplant, her passion for the special blend of culture and nature that is uniquely Jersey is what Sue loves to share with the world. She has one grown son that she is insanely proud of. Her husband of many decades is an amazing partner both in life and hiking. When not out exploring, Sue is most likely at home reading a novel with her dog.
What a great article for Mother’s Day!