An organization that has helped deliver about 12,000 diapers a month to parents in need during the last year discovered this week that about 13,000 diapers, valued at $5,000, had been stolen from its storage in a Durham, N.C., church building.
The theft robbed the North Carolina Diaper Bank of its supply of size 4 diapers, the most popular kind, forcing it to halt shipments. Size 4 fits a 30-pound child. And the thief or thieves not only broke into the room where most diapers were stored but also into a secret spot elsewhere in the building.
"What’s heartbreaking and important is 100% of the diapers come from the community," diaper bank founder Michelle Old said Tuesday night. "These are gifts from churches, school classes, parents who at birthday parties ask for diapers instead of gifts.... When they stole from us, they stole from the families who make this possible."
Police are investigating the theft, which happened over the weekend. Most of the diapers, from brand names to expensive boutique items, had been repackaged into packs of 25. They were inside boxes with Diaper Bank stickers on them.
Some families told Old that they were approached on downtown Durham streets over the weekend by someone who was selling those branded boxes for about $4 a pack. The families said they were confused but didn't question what they had seen until news of the theft spread on Monday.
Old said security was immediately upgraded at the Calvary United Methodist Church, which doesn't charge the nonprofit for using the rooms.
"On our door, it says Diaper Bank, so if you spent any time in this huge education building, you would have known about it," she said. "What was shocking to us is we had additional storage upstairs that we never really tell people about, including volunteers. That too had been cleared out."
A first-of-its-kind study released last year determined that 28% of families couldn't afford enough diapers for their children. Researchers had interviewed families in New Haven, Conn.
The so-called diaper gap has led to the emergence of diaper banks across the country. In the case of Old's year-old diaper bank, diapers are collected from various drives and then sent to churches, shelters and other organizations that distribute them to families.
"Any clean, dry diapers, we take," Old said. "We are determined to not let this stop the work we had done before because it’s an ongoing need for families every day."
Old said the focus was on raising donations to replenish the supply rather than trying to track down whoever was behind the theft.
Diapers cannot be purchased with federal welfare funds, yet they cost as much as $100 a month per baby, according to the National Diaper Bank Network.
In California, the state Assembly last week passed legislation that would give $80 a month for diapers to the families of more than 120,000 children under age 2. The CalWorks grant would be on top of the $463 that the average family on welfare receives each month, adding about $65 million a year to the program. The measure is awaiting action in the state Senate.