Western Pennsylvania Diaper Bank

“The Blessing is in the Diaper”

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My family has needed diapers for 5 of the past 6 1/2 years, and I’m excited to share that, with a third child to arrive this summer, the total will likely end up being over 8 years worth of diapers in a 10 year period when all is said and done. While this is something we can afford, we are also very fortunate in that our boys’ grandparents have gladly cover a lot of that expense so far.

But what happens when you can’t afford all those diapers?  What happens when the expense that I’ve seen estimated at as high as $1,500 per year for diapers and wipes is more than you can bear?  There are not government programs out there for this most basic of needs.  Sadly, many parents end up leaving their babies in dirty diapers for far too long.  Some even try to clean, dry, and reuse diapers that are meant to be disposable in order to reduce the expense that comes from using additional diapers.

I’m sure it’s not surprising to consider that a baby wearing a dirty diaper is much more likely to experience discomfort that can lead to skin irritation and lots of crying.  It’s a really difficult position for a parent to be in.  I speak from experience when I say that a baby who is difficult to console can make a parent feel pretty helpless.

By many accounts, this has been an under-reported need for a while.  Parents can be embarrassed to say that they aren’t able to meet the most basic needs of their children.  The children are obviously far to young to advocate for themselves, beyond their cries.  Fortunately for families in our area who find themselves stuck in this sort of a situation, we have the Western Pennsylvania Diaper Bank.

The Western PA Diaper Bank exists for two main purposes and are basically accomplished through on primary action (or series of actions).  On a macro scale, the diaper bank exists to raise awareness of the diaper shortage that many low-income people experience and advocate for their help.  The topic received some press last year when President Obama made it a part of his Mother’s Day address.  On a more micro, personal scale, the diaper bank works to do the dirty work of collecting and distributing diapers to local organizations that have direct contact with needy family in and around Pittsburgh.  Each purpose works to accomplish their vision of ensuring that every child has enough diapers to remain clean, healthy, and dry.  And each purpose is primarily addressed through diaper drives, both small and large.

This nonprofit organization was established here in 2012 and is affiliated with the National Diaper Bank Network.  They are entirely volunteer-run and a large number of the diapers distributed come from diaper drives conducted by local schools, churches, and individuals.  Once collected, the diapers are distributed through the Diaper Bank’s 32 local partner agencies.

In the spirit of joining the work of organizations that we are featuring here on Better the Burgh, I’d like to announce that we are conducting a diaper drive over the next two weeks. Let’s work together to collect as many diapers as we can for this worthwhile organization.  I’ll plan on delivering them on March 31st.  Please reach out to me here, or through the Facebook page if you are interested in donating.  I’ll either give you my address if you’d like to drop them off or try to coordinate a time and location where I could come pick them up from you.

I’ve pulled the below video from the National Diaper Bank network’s Youtube page.  It was used for a specific organization’s drive but it is absolutely applicable to to what I’m sharing here.  Please check it out.

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North Hills Community Outreach

I’ve taken a little bit longer in getting this next blog post out.  Part of that is because I’m getting a lot busier with work.  But the other part has been that every time I’ve thought of writing about North Hills Community Outreach, I felt a little bit overwhelmed.  I visited their main North Hills location in Alison Park last month to learn about what they do; I’ve read their literature and brochures; I’ve scoured their website – and then every time I sat down to write about their work, I wondered where on earth to start.

They have a mission of “addressing the needs of people in crisis, hardship, and poverty” for those who live in the northern portions of Allegheny County.  And as they’ve grown from a tiny group founded by clergy in the North Hills in response to some serious flooding that occurred in 1986, they’ve been able to address more and more needs through a growing variety of programs.

I’m going to end up sharing a lot of facts and statistics in this post, mostly because they are impressive and North Hills Community Outreach has done such a good job tracking what they do.  In fact, if I were just telling you what most impressed me when I was at their offices, it would be their commitment to wise stewardship and making use of every single opportunity to give.  Their is no waste in this organization.  Bring them your leftover , blue Giant Eagle grocery bags.  They can put them to use.  Donating food?  They will even clip the Box tops and make sure they are given to a school in need.  Printing on just one side of that internal document?  They don’t through it away.  They put it back in the copier and use the other side.  Every dime and every donation are treated with the utmost respect.  It all matters.

The following numbers are from their most recent annual report.

3,804 families and 33,117 people were assisted in the fiscal year 2015-2016

1,743 volunteers logged 39,000 hour of assistance.  (This is the equivalent of 19 full-time staff).

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185 senior citizens received 5,817 rides from the Free Rides for Seniors ride share program that operates two vehicles along the Route 28 corridor.

-Seasonal sharing projects were able to done 1,060 holiday gifts, 241 winter warms utility credits, 2,000 winter coats, 130 spring baskets, & 1,240 backpacks filled with school supplies.

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29 working people with low income were able to purchase cars through the Community Auto Program.

4,450 lbs of organic produce were distributed through the NHCO Community Gardens.

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The list could, honestly, go on and on.  I imagine there must be some limit to the number of services offered through North Hills community Outreach, but it really seems like they have worked very hard to meet every need and cover every gap in some way, shape, or form.  And for whetever they don’t do themselves, they’ve developed partnerships with a number of other Allegheny County organizations they can direct people towards.

How You Can Help

I know it sounds like they have all their bases covered, but they can only do this much because generous people and volunteers have been so willing to help.  Perhaps you could do that, too?  Some specific volunteer needs that were emphasized to me during my visit include weekday drivers to help get local seniors to appointments, people skilled with data entry (given what a great job they do tracking everything, this should be a surprise), and willing souls able to participate outside of the popular Thanksgiving through Christmas volunteer window.

Donations are gladly accepted.  They need to keep three large food pantries stocked (I’m told that canned potatoes, tomatoes, and peaches are especially popular); vehicle donations for Community Auto can do a lot of good; and appropriate items for the seasonal sharing projects are especially helpful.

Please call ahead if you have a specific or unique donation to share (412-487-6316).  They love to find a home for everything but they don’t have a lot of extra storage space to hold on to items that are a little outside of the norm.

I’ve honestly only scratched the surface here in sharing with you all that North Hills community Outreach does for North Hills residents.  It’s clear their founding pillars of faith, compassion, empowerment, and stewardship really do fuel the work they accomplish each day.  And if you don’t happen to live in the area that they service, take heart.  Just call the front desk and somebody will be able to direct you to an organization that can help you in your home area.  They really do have everything covered.

 

HEARTH

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Have I mentioned lately what an encouragement it is to work on this blog?  Nearly every week I meet with and learn about people who recognized a need and worked at creating a plan to meet that need.  Some of these organization are small – just starting out – while others are well-established here in the area.  Some focus on a niche need, while others confront huge problems with the hope of making lasting changes.  HEARTH probably fits better into that latter category.  They have a beautiful, clean, multi-building campus in the North Hills where they work to live up to the acronym from which their name is derived.  Homelessness Ends with Advocacy, Resources, Training, and Housing.

HEARTH is categorized as transitional housing. They provide apartment, sometimes for as long as two years, for families.  These families are almost always headed by a female who is either homeless or fleeing domestic violence situation.  This service alone would be a worthwhile mission.  A huge percentage of shelters and long-term transitional programs are set up for single adults, but what happens when there are one, or two, or even four children who find themselves in the same situation as their adult caregiver?  To provide a safe, clean location for the entire family to remain together while Mom takes the steps necessary to return them all to a place of stability is exactly what is needed.

And that is what you’ll find at HEARTH  Yes, there are 20 fully-furnished apartments categorized as transitional housing available to families in need.  But as the organization seek to fulfill its stated purpose HEARTH’s program provides so much more than just shelter from the storm.  Program participants have to be motivated to become self-sufficient.  Weekly case management meetings help the head of the family plan and then achieve the necessary educational and vocational training for lifting the family out of poverty.  Additionally, regular life skills classes at the facility provide a variety of other types of training that is important for leading a family that will thrive.

The facility itself contains all the amenities that help create both a home while living there and success one it become time to move on.  On the grounds there is a learning center, childcare room, playground, and sports court for the kids, while the head of household has access to a computer lab, exercise room, food pantry, clothing closet, and a little store for paper products, toiletries, and the like.  HEARTH goes to great lengths to feel like a home and not a shelter.  While there are some rules and restrictions for the safety of everyone in the program, participants are free to come and go as they seek to establish, or reestablish, a normal life for themselves and their children.

Since the program’s founding in 1998, they have seen unquestioned success.  84% of their families have gone on to permanent housing, 75% to full-time employment; 88% increased their educational levels, and 89% increased their income.  when you consider the fact that these numbers also represent children who’s circumstances have improved because of what HEARTH offers, it’s easy to see why this program has such a strong reputation.

Want to help?

HEARTH provides a variety of opportunities for volunteer help.  Things like providing transportation, mentoring, teaching a life skills class, organizing one of the pantries, and joining a committee to help with event planning are just some of the available options for individuals or groups.  To learn more, please head over to the organization’s website and fill out the prospective volunteer’s form.

Both in-kind and financial donations are also accepted and greatly appreciated.  If you’re considering an in-kind gift, please coordinate through the following link to make sure the items are appropriate and timely.  Financial gifts are always appropriate and timely, but perhaps now more than ever.  Starting in 2017, HEARTH will lose about 420K in federal funding because Allegheny Country is no longer directing that money towards transitional housing.  So if you are able to give, or especially if you are able to advocate for transitional housing, please connect with HEARTH so that those resources can be best utilized.

Finally, HEARTH hold four major fundraising events throughout the year as a means of promoting their mission and raising money to maintain the program.  The next event will be Hops for HEARTH, a beer-tasting event held downtown in April.  Ive been assured that it is both a good time and serves a good purpose.  Please consider attending, becoming a sponsor, or helping out if April 16th is free on your calendar.