Wisc. Woman Who Left Job for Life of Giving Back Says Diaper Bank She Founded Is 'A Labor of Love'
After the pandemic caused an explosion of need, Megan Sollenberger dedicated more time to her nonprofit: "Something so small can make a huge difference to these families"
When Megan Sollenberger saw the devastating scenes of Hurricane Harvey's destruction through Texas in 2017, she felt compelled to help. After discovering that the greatest need among those struggling was diapers — items not covered by government assistance — "it felt pretty compelling to do something about it," she says.
She raised and donated $3,000 to the Houston Diaper Bank — and then Sollenberger, of Cambridge, Wisconsin, decided to do much more. While the 31-year-old mom of two young boys was holding down a full-time job in the benefits department of a health software company based in nearby Madison, she launched a diaper bank from her basement in 2018 that at first helped 150 children each month.
"I was relying on the kindness of my family and friends to help package all of these diapers," says Sollenberger, who would load the diapers, up to 12,000 a month, into her minivan and drop them off at a local social service organization for distribution to clients. "That was an adventure."
From the start, Sollenberger had her eye on eventually making her nonprofit more of her focus.
"I knew I wanted to do [the charity work] full time," she tells PEOPLE in this week's issue. "I thought I had a five-year runway."
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But when the coronavirus pandemic hit, the need exploded. By then she'd moved the home base of her Village Diaper Bank into a Madison warehouse, and more non-profit social service providers sought diapers for clients. Soon she was serving more than 700 children, providing an estimated 60,000 diapers monthly.
Says Sollenberger: "I had to jump in with both feet."
In July, she left her job, which she loved. In a letter to colleagues she wrote: "I'd be lying if I said I wasn't scared. I am absolutely terrified. But I'm also excited, and hopeful, and have renewed energy and passion for a cause that I care deeply about."
Sollenberger, now pregnant with her third child, and her husband Blake, a 35-year-old product manager for a health technology company, have adjusted to single-income living. They say every sacrifice has been worth it.
"It's a labor of love," she says. "Something so small can make a huge difference to these families."
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How You Can Help
"Organizations typically prefer monetary donations," Sollenberger says. "We can stretch the dollars by buying in bulk."
If you have time to give back, how about volunteering at a diaper bank?
"Most programs are volunteer-run," she says, "and depend on community members to ensure success."
For more information on how to get involved in your community, visit nationaldiaperbanknetwork.org.