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Non-profit wraps up babies without much government aid

CHICAGO TRIBUNE - With government at all levels ignoring the safety of those they are supposed to protect and serve, no wonder more and more of us are turning to non-governmental organizations for aid. You’re likely to get more help from a charitable group than from your local tax-supported government agency.

Examples range from the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services falling down on the job, to the environmental bureaucrats who told New York City first-responders after 9/11 that it was safe for them to work at Ground Zero, to Lake County officials dumbfounded about the ethylene oxide dangers facing their residents.

When it comes to aid and assistance, it does take a village as Hillary Clinton once told us. Especially from friends and neighbors, on whom you normally can depend.

Which leads to one non-governmental organization in Lake County where folks are getting their money’s worth in an unlikely arena: Twice As Nice Mother & Child distributes free packs of diapers along with childcare items to young families in need.

With little help from government, the agency’s 14 or so volunteers have handed out more than 1 million baby diapers in Lake County. It marked its one-year anniversary this spring of providing pop-up mobile diaper pantries in Waukegan, Gurnee and Highwood. It relies on fundraising events, diaper drives and cash donations to fulfill its mission ensuring every child has enough diapers.

“I knew there was a need, but when I think about how many families and children we're helping ... it has blown my mind just how successful it's been,” stated Executive Director Ann Marie Mathis of Gurnee, who founded the nonprofit in 2010. “It’s just overwhelming.”

Mobile diaper pantry distributions take place once a month at the Warren-Newport Public Library in Gurnee; and once a month at the Cristo Rey St. Martin College Prep school, 3106 Belvidere Road, Waukegan; as well as twice a month at the Highwood Recreation Center, 432 Green Bay Road.

Volunteers Bunny Debevec (foreground) and Laura Dmytrenko (left) sort items of clothing in the storage room at the Twice As Nice Mother & Child facility in Gurnee as founder Ann Marie Mathis checks out some of the latest donations. (Posted by Cynthia Wolf, Community Contributor)

“People can come twice a month and can receive up to 100 diapers or 50 pull-ups per child per month through the mobile pantry program,” Mathis, a mother of seven, said. “Our goal is to get diapers into the hands of families who need them.”

The next mobile diaper distribution day is Wednesday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. in the rear parking lot at Warren-Newport Public Library, Gurnee. Others are planned this month in Highwood and Waukegan, where the group’s warehouse is in an industrial park on the city’s far northwest side.

Baby diapers cost upwards of $80 a month, a sizable chunk of a family’s budget. According to the National Diaper Bank Network, of which Twice As Nice is a member, 5.2 million toddlers live in poor or low-income families; one in three families struggles to afford clean diapers, with most programs for low-income families failing to cover the cost of diapers.

Twice As Nice is one of 10 diaper banks in Illinois. Across the U.S., diaper banks distribute more than 64 million diapers a year, according to the NDBN.

“I can’t tell you how many parents say, ‘I don’t know what I would do without this,'” Mathis said of those who attend mobile diaper pantry dates or request diaper assistance. One-time registration with parent and child identification is necessary to receive services, Mathis said, which tracks areas of high need.

More than 600 children currently are registered, with Twice As Nice issuing about 7,000 diapers twice a month. Of course, there is no free lunch or free diapers. The not-for-profit buys them to dole them out.

Grants help pay for some of them, while donations of packaged diapers and pull-ups are accepted. The agency is holding its annual fundraiser, “Bottoms Up for Babies” on Sept. 27 at The Shanty in Wadsworth. Help them wrap up more kids in diapers.

Charles Selle is a former News-Sun reporter, political editor and editor. Twitter: @sellenews


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