Books and Babies: A Diaper Problem Leads to a Solution

By Cassandra Lane

diaper

Miry’s List founder Miry Whitehill-Ben Atar, Michelle Franke, Cyndi Otteson and their children show off the fruits of their labor. PHOTOS COURTESY MICHELLE FRANKE

When Michelle Franke and her husband had their first baby eight months ago, they assumed they had enough diapers to last them for months. But most of the diapers they received from their baby registry were newborn-size, and their son, River August, outgrew them – and the next few sizes – quicker than the couple had imagined.

“He is our first, so we had no idea we would end up with all these extra diapers on our hands,” Franke says. And while River August’s outgrown clothes and equipment were easy to donate, the diapers, especially opened packs of diapers … not so much.

Franke, executive director of the L.A.-based literary nonprofit PEN Center USA, was determined to get the diapers into the hands of parents who needed them. She took to social media and the Internet, and learned that 30 percent of women responding to a Yale School of Medicine survey said they could not afford enough diapers for their babies. It shook Franke to her core. She looked to her 10 years of community work with PEN for a solution.

“The thing that the people who work with PEN care about is making sure young people are able to enjoy books,” she says. The organization sends local authors into schools and encourages parents to instill “book love” in their children. “But book love is something that can’t happen if kids are sitting in wet diapers and dirty diapers,” Franke says. “They can’t be comfortable.” And mothers depressed because they can’t provide basic comfort for their babies aren’t going to be in the mood for reading.

So Franke rallied her literary and social media communities to support a diaper drive that would culminate with local writers affiliated with PEN reading their favorite children’s books. Skylight Books in Los Feliz donated space for the reading and diaper drive, which included opened packs of diapers as well as new ones. Miry’s List, a nonprofit that helps refugees who have fled the violence in their countries, agreed to donate the diapers to immigrant families. The Pump Station boutiques and resource centers marketed the event to customers and gave incentives for people to purchase diapers even if they couldn’t attend the event.

The event, “Booty Book Baby: A Community Diaper Drive & Book Party” was held at the end of August and rounded up more than 6,000 diapers for Miry’s List, which serves more than 100 families.

Franke urges fellow parents to find a social issue and take even one small step toward resolving it. “It’s a powerful thing for even one citizen to look at a problem and say, ‘Hey wait a second, I know a little fix for that.’ I had this sack of diapers at home and said, ‘Let’s just see who shows up.’”

Learn more about Pen Center USA at www.penusa.org. For more information on Miry’s List, visit www.miryslist.org.

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