NORTHWEST HERALD - Ann Marie Mathis started her first iteration of Waukegan-based Keeping Families Covered in her basement in 2010, focusing on gently used baby and children’s clothes, shoes and baby gear.
As more clients asked for diapers, in 2014 her focus changed and expanded, providing those to families while maintaining the clothes bank.
Now, Mathis and Keeping Families Covered has expanded again, taking over the site and operations of the Diaper Bank of Northern Illinois, located at 4138 W. Orleans St. in McHenry.
The Rev. Phyllis Mueller, a retired Presbyterian minister, started with the McHenry County diaper bank in 2009. In 2015, it expanded into a donated location. Then, last year, Mueller was considering retirement from the nonprofit when she asked Mathis to take over.
“I’m so excited for Ann Marie and her team and very confident they will ensure this operation goes forward into the future and continues to serve all those in need, both children and adults,” Mueller said in a prepared statement.
The two first met in 2015 at a national conference for diaper banks, Mathis said.
“I met her riding in an elevator in Seattle. We had no idea we were both diaper bankers in northern Illinois” in neighboring counties, Mathis said.
The two stayed in contact over the years.
“(Mueller’s operation) was much larger. I had only been part of the network for a year, and I was buying most of the diapers myself at that point,” Mathis said.
Since that first meeting, the two groups and their leaders shared resources and contacts while learning from each other.
“She … has really focused on identifying gaps in the services that exist in the community,” Mathis said.
While diapers are the focus of both groups, they each expanded in different directions as they determined what their communities needed.
For example, the McHenry diaper bank began providing adult incontinence products. Now, adult products are about 30% of the McHenry agency’s distribution.
Keeping Families Covered only started offering those in summer 2021.
“The addition of this site and this community will help the adult program trend upward,” Mathis said.
Keeping Families Covered also began offering period products to its clients, while continuing to provide shoes, clothes, baby gear, books and baby formula.
Mathis hopes to add period products to the McHenry location by the end of the year.
“I am making sure the programs meet the needs,” she said. “You shouldn’t have to jump through hoops to get diapers or period products.”
It is her plan to fully integrate the two programs, but McHenry diaper bank clients will not see wholesale changes in how diapers are provided. The same volunteers will stay at both sites.
“I don’t want to disrupt their process at all. People have been relying on support from this organization for years,” Mathis said.
Her organization will continue to work with 17 programs across the county, including school districts, food pantries and senior services, to get adult products and baby diapers to clients.
The McHenry location will also continue to open its doors from 10 a.m. to noon the first three Wednesdays of the month, as well as operate existing mobile services, bringing the diapers to where they are needed.
“(T)hose in need can be certain they will continue to receive help with children’s diapers and adult products,” through Mathis and her group, Mueller said in an email to the Northwest Herald.
“The well-being of every person is important to Keeping Families Covered. I am very confident in the future of the vital services we have provided over the years,” Mueller said.
Mathis noted that there are no federal or state programs or grants to provide diapers, including through Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or the Women, Infants and Children programs.
Much of Mathis’s funding comes from private grants, while Mueller relied almost entirely on private donations.
“My hope is, that as I start to learn the area, I can connect with the partners – churches, chambers of commerce, community organizations – and that will start to open some doors and allow me to connect with the right people,” Mathis said.
For information about the programs, go to keepingfamiliescovered.org/donate.