Tamra Chambers has two kids in diapers. She’s working reduced hours at her hospitality job. Her paycheck is a fraction of what it was before the COVID-19 pandemic.
So when she drives up to a truck outside a community center in Detroit to pick up diapers for her two babies — Coryn and Levi — nestled in the back seat of her car, it’s a weight off the 31-year-old mom’s shoulders.
“It’s just a major help. I don’t have to worry about choosing between diapers or bills, you know? My babies, they have diapers and I’m able to spend that money — the probably $100 a month that I would be spending — I can spend that on groceries or bills,” said Chambers, a mom of three living in Detroit.
On a December afternoon, she was one of about 100 people who drove up to the parking lot at St. Suzanne Cody Rouge Community Resource Center on Detroit’s west side to pick up diapers, wipes and menstrual pads.
A line of cars wrapped around a corner. One by one, people drove up to a U-Haul truck where a team of four from the Metropolitan Detroit Diaper Bank and youth group Young Men-N-Motion lugged diapers into trunks from a pile stacked high.
They checked names off a list detailing what each person had signed up for,.
The drive-thru is one of several free pickups in a given month. There are 14 sites, and weekly deliveries, all across metro Detroit. That’s thousands of diapers to families. Before the pandemic, it took place inside.
It’s an efficient operation. And behind it all — Veronica Claybrone.
The 71-year-old Detroiter is the founder and director of the Metropolitan Detroit Diaper Bank. Claybrone said she started the nonprofit a few years after she retired 15 years ago.
She began volunteering at her church. Every month, she would drive to Canton and bring in diapers from a diaper bank there to her church community. Eventually, after that resource was no longer available, she launched her own Detroit-based effort in 2016.
“Baby only has three basic needs: milk, love and diapers,” she said.
Diaper need is dire in Detroit and it’s only been amplified by the economic upheaval of the pandemic, she said. Thirty five percent of Detroiters live in poverty, according to 2019 census data. Even before the pandemic, 1 in 3 U.S. families couldn’t afford diapers, the National Diaper Bank Network reported.
Last year, the Metropolitan Detroit Diaper Bank reached a major milestone: more than 1 million diapers delivered to families. That’s a jump from about 500,000 in 2019. A big part of that was the need during the health crisis as people faced joblessness, plus donations that poured in to ramp up efforts.
Claybrone already placed an order for the new year — 148,000 diapers from one shipment. And even that, she suspects, will not be enough.
“It’s not a whole lot of diapers,” she said. Ever since the pandemic hit, the diaper bank has been giving away about 100 diapers per child, as opposed to 50.
The 10-person organization is direct service, meaning people sign up for what they need and the organization tries to meet those needs. She describes the nonprofit as a resource, not a referral agency.
Claybrone herself picks up calls: “This is the Metropolitan Detroit Diaper Bank. How may I help you?” she says one Wednesday. She tells the caller that an upcoming pickup is still scheduled to take place.
Her mission is to ensure that every baby and senior is clean, healthy and dry.
“I just think the need can be eradicated. We just have to get the word to the right people that have the dollars,” she said.
For Chambers, who had her son in January while still furloughed and struggled to buy diapers, the pickups are a welcome relief during a rough spot in life. It’s a chance to buy gifts during the holiday season.
She’s grateful for the monthly reminders she gets, too.
“It’s such a big help to me and it makes me feel good,” she said. “They understand that it’s not like a one-time need. It’s something that’s an ongoing necessity.”