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For Harvey Evacuees With Babies, Diapers Make A Difference

Courtney Collins
KERA news
Hermanique Lowe and her 3-month-old Jamier fled Galveston County in advance of the storm.

One essential item that runs out quickly and many families can't live without is diapers. Toddlers need six to eight every day, and infants can go through up to 12.

In the aftermath of Harvey, and with Hurricane Irma cranking up in the Atlantic, diapers are a key element in outfitting a shelter.

Leaving ahead of the storm

Hermanique Lowe left Galveston County the Thursday before Hurricane Harvey hit, not knowing what would be left after the storm passed. And she did it with a 3-month-old.

She says living in a Dallas hurricane shelter with an infant is no picnic.

“It's kind of stressful because the baby's crying and the baby's stressed out too, because, you know, we're in a new environment,” she says.

And unlike traveling with an adult or an older child, trekking north with baby Jamier is a lot more work, Lowe says. Housing a baby takes a lot of supplies.

"Diapers, wipes, Similac, clothes, bibs,” she says. “I mean, we have to travel with all that."

Something that's hard to do when fleeing a hurricane. And Lowe isn't the only one with diapers at the top of her list. Mother of five Daphne Griffin from Port Arthur says being able to change your baby into a clean diaper is a need, not a want.

“They can catch rashes. They can get infections. Uou got to have it,” she says. “You have to have diapers. Like right now you have a virus going around the center, so diapers are going extremely fast."

Griffin's 9-month-old named — believe it or not — Stormy, caught that virus.

"She's going through almost, 20, 22 diapers a day,” Griffin says.

Stocking the shelters

And that's what makes keeping diapers stocked after a disaster so challenging. You can't ask babies to ration them, and it's impossible for evacuees to bring all they'll need while they're displaced.

"Diapers are specifically a problem because, first off, families go through, babies use a lot of diapers, so the space and the need for those is constant,” says Joanne Goldblum, CEO of the National Diaper Bank.

That organization connects corporate sponsors and community groups to provide diapers for people in need. Right now, that means sending truckloads of diapers for babies — and adults who need them — to disaster areas. 

Goldblum says babies are obviously happier and healthier when they have enough clean diapers to get through the day. What people may not understand, she says, is that goes for moms, too.

"We know through research we did with our colleagues at Yale that maternal stress and depression are highly correlated with diaper need,” she says.

And the need isn't just where the storm has been. Shelters set up in unaffected areas like North Texas are desperate for stock, too.

"Many people evacuated and are in the surrounding communities. And they have great need because they left with the clothes on their back,” Goldblum says.

Leaving home behind

That's what Daphne Griffin did, more or less. First, she gathered up her mom, dad, husband and five kids. As far as supplies, she grabbed what she could, but had no idea how long she'd be gone.

"We brought bottles, diapers, clothes. Didn't think that we were going to need a lot, and the little that we did bring, we ran out of, really quick,” she says.

National Diaper Bank CEO Joanne Goldblum says most evacuee families are in the same boat. 

"What we say here is small things impact big things,” says Goldblum. “And something as small as a diaper can make a difference."

And she hopes it will. Because people who have lost homes and cars and are struggling to put their lives back together shouldn't have to wonder where their next package of diapers is coming from.

Courtney Collins has been working as a broadcast journalist since graduating from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University in 2004. Before coming to KERA in 2011, Courtney worked as a reporter for NPR member station WAMU in Washington D.C. While there she covered daily news and reported for the station’s weekly news magazine, Metro Connection.