WAUKEGAN – LAKE COUNTY JOURNAL - For one family in Fox Lake facing mounting medical bills, Waukegan-based Keeping Families Covered has been the difference between watering down their baby’s formula and keeping everyone properly fed.
“That is a saving grace,” said Lauren, who at 42 is a new mom in Fox Lake. “On the first of this year, my husband got laid off. And then COVID hit and then I couldn’t work anymore because of the baby and because child care is so expensive. Plus, my husband just had knee surgery. 2020, I just want it done.”
Lauren, who declined to provide her last name, said she is beyond grateful for Keeping Families Covered’s work and to all who support the organization.
“This baby is the love of my life. He’s our miracle baby,” she said after picking up diapers for her 10-month-old. “But I will be honest. We were considering cutting his formula with more water to make it last.
“What an amazing service this is,” she said. “They are so kind. They don’t judge you. ... This makes the difference, enabling us to put food on our table and diapers on our boy.” Another family, the Pizanos, a family of six from Waukegan, said that were it not for the free diapers they receive, they’d be choosing between paying for groceries or paying their utility bills each month.
And in Zion, a COVID-19-related job loss two months before the birth of their second son put the Rojas family into a financial skid.
“We used to tag team on the bills,” Juan Rojas said, noting that his wife, Ana, was a waitress before the pandemic hit. “I’m a pizza delivery driver. We scrape to have enough to keep diapers on the baby and milk in the fridge.” The diapers the Rojases receive from Keeping Families Covered are saving them hundreds of dollars, Juan Rojas said.
“I felt like the pressure of the world was on me,” Rojas said Dec. 2 after picking up diapers during a mobile pantry distribution in Gurnee. “There is so much going on. It is such a relief. Every time we come here, we always try to tell the volunteers, ‘God bless you. Thank you. Just thank you.’ ”
When 2020 began, the organization founded by Ann Marie Mathis as Twice As Nice Mother & Child was distributing 70,000 diapers to about 1,000 Lake County families each month. During the pandemic, the nonprofit rebranded as Keeping Families Covered is distributing up to 121,000 diapers each month to more than 1,200 families. Through everything from a diaper supply chain that collapsed in March to the loss of fundraising and diaper drive opportunities throughout the year, Keeping Families Covered has risen to each challenge in 2020. Not only has the organization stayed on top of growing demand for diapers to keep babies clean and healthy, it’s added period supply kits to address the many women who are experiencing poverty.
Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, 1 in 3 young children in the U.S. regularly faced diaper need, meaning their families could not afford an adequate supply, according to the National Diaper Bank Network. The economic fallout of the pandemic has only increased that need – a deficit that results in placing babies at increased risk for diaper rash and more serious infections and the ripple effect causing families to cut back on other necessities, such as food or utilities. Because child care centers require families to provide diapers, parents in this position face employment and school attendance hardships.
No federal or state welfare programs cover diapers, making the work of Keeping Families Covered key to so many.
“We have never had to tell any client or any agency partner that we could not help them in some way,” founder and Executive Director Mathis said. “We must not and will not start now. Families need our support more than ever.” Mathis credits the grit of an amazing core group of volunteers for helping the organization continue to achieve and surpass goals, despite the vastly altered economic and distribution landscape.
“We lost nearly half of our team when the pandemic hit in March but have managed to survive the unprecedented growth in our programs thanks to the collective efforts of those who have remained by my side for the past nine months,” she said. “We would not be in a position to continue serving our community without the dedication and unwavering commitment of my amazing team.”