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It was just about a month after Kate Bryden, 33, gave birth to her son Nolan that she saw a message on a private Facebook group for mothers that stopped her cold.
“This woman was telling the group, ‘We don’t have any money. We are out of diapers. I don’t know what to do,’ ” Bryden, the owner and manager of a construction management company, tells PEOPLE. “Then she wrote, ‘Pray for me.’ ”
Bryden couldn’t get the woman’s post out of her mind. And after an online search confirmed that Baltimore didn’t have any diaper banks in the surrounding area, she talked to friends, one of whom introduced her to the women of ShareBaby.
In the summer of 2014, Kristin Finkelstein, 30, mother to two toddlers, Maya Ammons, 31, mother to a toddler and an infant, and Kate Mumaw, 34, mother to two toddlers, laid the groundwork for ShareBaby after a lunchtime conversation about the wealth of gently used and new baby supplies that went unused while the poorest members of the Baltimore area struggled to clothe, feed and diaper their babies.
“We started going online to research other organizations. The big one that stood out was Baby2Baby in Los Angeles,” Finkelstein tells PEOPLE of the Southern California organization that now provides more than 100,000 low-income children ranging from newborn to age 12 with needed supplies. “We started with our friends, asking them to drop off things to us that they weren’t using. They told their friends and then it just grew.”
It especially took off after Bryden and Eliseba Osore, 26, a social worker based in Baltimore, separately approached ShareBaby’s leaders to start a diaper bank they dubbed DiaperSHARE.
Those resources have been godsends to Tabatha Pettigrew, 32, mother to three kids ages 10, 2 and 1. The service presents packs of 25 diapers to parents, which would cost $1 a piece or more if purchased in the convenience stores Pettigrew frequents. Clothing, cribs, strollers and other supplies are also carefully wrapped and presented to the parents and children.
The lovely, wrapped gifts make all the difference to Pettigrew.
“I get my monthly check and I pay for my rent and my phone, because that’s a necessity, and buy $100 worth of diapers. And sometimes I just can’t make it work,” Pettigrew tells PEOPLE. “Sometimes I don’t even make it through a month (before the diapers I bought run out). It’s embarrassing.”
The absence of fresh diapers can pose a health concern as well.
Ashley Gresh, a nurse at the Dayspring Transitional Housing program in Baltimore, where Pettigrew is a resident, knows first hand that babies left for days in soiled diapers often contract urinary tract infections, fecal impaction and skin diseases.
“One of the things I keep finding myself repeatedly saying is that you have this horrible cycle of poverty people can’t get out of,” she tells PEOPLE. “That’s why it’s so important to help moms take care of a new generation of children. Those children are our future and can be productive members of society.”
Laura Latta, director of Early Childhood Initiatives, Family League of Baltimore, says many people are unaware that low-income families are often forced to substitute dishtowels, maxi pads or even T-shirts for diapers.
“Diapers are one of those needs that people don’t think about. They are very expensive and low-income families can’t afford them, so their children have infections, rashes and disease,” says Latta, noting some parents put sanitary pads inside diapers to “freshen” them. “We are very excited about ShareBaby and DiaperShare. It’s very important because these [and other] organizations give resources to those that need them the most.”
Researchers at Yale University published a 2013 study that found low-income women who could not afford diapers reported symptoms of depression and anxiety.
“A parent’s mental health affects a child’s development,” Megan Smith, assistant professor of Psychiatry at Yale and principal author of the study, said publicly. “High levels of stress and depression in a parent can be associated with low achievement in school and mental health problems that can follow a child for a lifetime.”
Research has shown such mental health issues also lead to child abuse, says Osore.
The service that ShareBaby and DiaperSHARE provide, not only aid clients’ children and the clients’ themselves, they also provide a great example for the families of its members.
ShareBaby member Monique Yuan, 40, whose children ages 7 and 3 are fascinated by her involvement in the organization.
“The whole mission hits home with them,” says Yuan, who took a break from a career as an endodontist to be a stay-at-home mom. “I am one of those people with an attic full of pristine children’s things – a swing, a crib, a stroller. They mean a lot to me because my kids used them and I want to know they’re going to help someone else.”
Her volunteerism has become a family project with her 7-year-old son often asking if certain items are “for the babies” and begging to accompany her on ShareBaby errands.
“It makes me feel good that he understands there are people who do without,” she says. “So many people don’t think there are people in need but there are. There always are.”