HappyBottoms distributes donated diapers despite pandemic

Jill Gaikowski, Executive Director, HappyBottoms Founder

Jill Gaikowski working on computer

Q: What has been the hardest challenge you have faced or obstacle you have overcome?
A: The biggest challenge was supply chain issues. While there was a heavy focus on lack of toilet paper, there was also a lack of access to diapers when the pandemic hit. We work with several diaper vendors to secure our diapers and many had to redirect their supply to cover the shortage at local stores. We also rely on volunteers to repack our diapers into packs of 25.

Getting 250,000 diapers out the door each month without volunteers wrapping them was a hurdle we had to jump quickly. Luckily, one of our long-time vendor partners was able to not only agree to get us the diapers we needed for the remainder of the year, but they were able to send them to us in packs of 25.

HappyBottoms has always placed a priority on efficiency and effectiveness. Adjusting our operations to accommodate a global pandemic has certainly challenged that priority. Through it all, we've adjusted to maintain safety for our staff, clients and the community while never stopping our service of getting diapers into the community and onto bottoms who need them.

Q: How have your donations been impacted?
A: Before the pandemic, HappyBottoms offered our diaper wrapping experience on location at several companies around Kansas City. We called this our “Mobile Wrap Event” program which was donation-based. We are not currently able to offer that event. Additionally, our Men’s Event and newly launched Diaper League event were postponed to next year. The loss of revenue from these events altogether translates to nearly half of our diaper budget for the year.

We have been fortunate to receive funding specific to COVID-19 and helping families affected by the pandemic. However, we have about 3,000 clients who rely on us monthly for diapers pre-pandemic and we must continue to raise funds in order to serve these families as well.

Line of cars

Q: Were there any “ah ha moments” in making adjustments to provide service that you’ll carry forward?
A: HappyBottoms has always distributed diapers through social service partner agencies in the six county KC area and five area hospitals.

We know that families who need diapers likely need access to other services. By partnering with social service agencies, we ensure families are being offered those other services.

Since the pandemic hit, the need for diapers has increased substantially. Our program coordinator is fielding as many as 70 phone calls a day from parents needing diapers for their child. At the same time, we noticed early on during the pandemic that families were not coming out to get diapers like they once were. We expect this happened for several reasons:

  • COVID safety concerns.
  • Transportation and employment barriers.
  • Early on, during the community shut down, some of our partners may have closed their doors or had shortened hours temporarily.

To combat these problems and make sure we're doing everything we can to get diapers into the community, the program team acted swiftly with several new distribution options.

  1. We started a program to distribute diapers directly from our warehouse on Tuesdays and Thursdays for new clients.
  2. We partnered with Victorious Life Church to distribute diapers quarterly and provided 10,000 diapers to 212 new clients at our first quarterly event.
  3. We partnered with Harvesters to distribute diapers at some of their remote locations like the Cass County Health Department, Shepard's Food Pantry in Harrisonville, Prince of Peace Church in Olathe, and Franklin Center in KCK. So far, we've added 609 new clients at those locations (30,000 diapers).
  4. We're working on a partnership with the Kansas City Police Department so that officers have diapers available when they run into emergency situations where there is a need. This partnership will help to build community trust and positive interactions as well.
  5. We're piloting a program with childcare centers to ensure families have diapers needed at the childcare location. Did you know 57% of parents reported missing school or work because they didn't have diapers to send with their child to the childcare center? We're happy to be a part of the solution to this problem.

All these programs will continue once the pandemic has subsided.

Q: What the top three largest impacts the pandemic has made on those you serve?

  1. Many of the families we are serving now have never had to rely on a social service program of any sort and are getting diapers for the first time due to recent unemployment and hardships related to COVID-19.
  2. Transportation has always been a barrier for many of our clients. Those issues are amplified during the pandemic because many do not want to take a crowded bus and/or cannot afford transportation if they have been impacted by layoffs.
  3. At times, social distancing restrictions have had an impact on the number of clients and frequency of serving those clients.
Handing diapers to someone inside car

Q: What are you most proud of as an outcome of the pandemic?

A: I couldn't be prouder and more honored to work with an amazing staff of women who kept HappyBottoms running while I took a previously planned sabbatical for most of July. When people support HappyBottoms, they aren't just supporting the community, our clients and our partners, they're also supporting the most hard-working and passionate group of individuals that make up our staff (nine of us) who do the grueling work day in and day out to meet our goals and mission. The fact that they have stepped up and gone above and beyond to meet the growing demand and have added multiple new programs in weeks’ time, is incredible to see.

Q: What didn’t we ask you that you would like to share?

A: Why diapers?

  • Diapers are not covered by government safety net programs like food stamps, Medicaid and WIC.
  • An estimated 22,000 children in KC need diapers assistance, pre-COVID (US Census 2017).
  • 20% of families report using payday or other loan in order to buy diapers (HappyBottoms Client Survey 2018).
  • Moms report that not having diapers is more stressful than not having food.

As we continue to meet the growing need for diapers in our community, we have a commitment to continue distributing diapers to the more than 3,000 children we were already serving each and every month before the pandemic hit.

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