Cloth diapers ARE an option for low-income families

Whenever I suggest that cloth diapers could be particularly useful for people on a limited income (per a Huggies' study, one in three US families is forced to cut back on basic essentials, like food, utilities or child care in order to afford enough diapers for their child), I get a version of this objection:

Low-income families don't have access to washing machines and dryers - what are they going to do, handwash them?!? They don't have time to be handling diaper laundry, working multiple jobs just to keep their children fed. Plus, many of the babies are in daycare where cloth diapers aren't accepted.

What I've been dying to say is... "How about we let THEM decide?" Because here's the thing. I'm not sitting here trying to push cloth diapers on anyone. I'm simply trying to empower people to realize they don't HAVE to be handcuffed to the purchase of thousands of dollars of worth of single-use items from Big Disposable companies. I want them to at least HAVE the information about cloth diapers SO THEY CAN DECIDE FOR THEMSELVES. Why would anyone object to that? Some things to consider:

* While I understand landlord and space restrictions, it IS interesting to note that an automatic washing machine could be purchased for as little as $350 (and a smaller, portable washer for as little as $50 - $200).  Add those expenditures to your cloth diaper stash and you're STILL spending less overall to diaper your child than you would buying single-use throwaway diapers. So I'm going to continue to find ways to help low-income families find and use reusable cloth diapers.  Join me at Diaper Aid Hub.  UPDATED: Find more suggestions for helping low-income families. Heather McNamara Executive Director, Real Diaper Association

A cloth diaper vision you can support

Imagine a community where a majority of families use cloth diapers. This isn’t a virtual community, but your actual neighborhood. How did they all choose cloth diapers? The Samsons got a flyer about an incentive program for purchasing cloth diapers from their city council. The Nguyens read about the same incentive program in the local paper but used it to subsidize a diaper service. Meanwhile, the Hailes got some cloth diapers from the local refugee support group and the Delmonicos got a certificate from a local food bank. All are participating in their local Real Diaper Circle, where they receive support and help spread cloth diapering to other families. The Jacksons saw these Real Diaper babies in the park and joined the group to find out more. So began a session I presented at the Real Diaper Industry Association meetings in Louisville a couple of weeks ago.  I followed this vision with two REAL stories about volunteers working to make these very things happen in their communities. Rachel Aube told her story about initiating a cloth diaper subsidy in Victoria, BC.  Their petition (which has thousands of signatures so far, but is still in the gathering stages) reads, in part:

"We would like to have a subsidy in place for CRD families that are lowering their environmental impact by choosing cloth, thus reducing gross municipal tonnage and keeping single use products out of our landfills... we would like to support our local cloth retailers and small businesses by adding the stipulation that a subsidy would only be eligible if the diapers are purchased within the CRD. Therefore, your petitioners request that the CRD develop a subsidy plan for the use of cloth diapers, and reduce waste in our local landfills while supporting local small businesses."

Megan Fernsler told her story about starting a cloth diaper program within a local social service agency.  The program includes the following components:

  • Get diapers - agency has procured a grant for diapers for low-income families (and they've gotten many donations for inserts from Diaper Kind). Megan advised the agency on what to buy.
  • Indentify recipients - agency surveyed existing qualified low-income clients about their interest in cloth diapers and access to washing facilities, then invite them to a free cloth diaper introduction class to find out about them.
  • Diaper distribution - Interested clients apply for diaper kits and are matched with a set for their baby's size.
  • Cloth diaper support - Clients are referred to their local Real Diaper Circle, led by Megan, for ongoing support from other families using cloth diapers.

Rachel and Megan aren't alone.  There are others working on similar initiatives in their communities.  The Real Diaper Association is facilitating their efforts through a new Facebook page, the Diaper Aid Hub.  The Diaper Aid Hub aims to support people who are helping low-income families find and use reusable cloth diapers via education, direct aid from social service organizations, and/or municipal government subsidies.  If you are interested in participating in any of this work, please join the conversation there. Heather McNamara Executive Director, Real Diaper Association

Finding the cloth diaper expert in the mirror

While studying to become a teacher years ago, I read this sentence:
"By my own example I hoped to become a living refutation to the cult of anointed expertise which has poisoned every aspect of our liberties." - John Taylor Gatto, Dumbing us down: the hidden curriculum of compulsory schooling
It made a huge impact on me and figured prominently in my middle school classroom (both figuratively and literally - I printed it and hung it on my desk.) I am reminded again of this sentence each time I talk with another volunteer in training to become a Real Diaper Circle Leader.  They often worry that they're not "experts" in cloth diapering.  Which gives me the opportunity to reassure them that they ARE the experts - - they are cloth diapering parents themselves.  For many generations, there were no diapering experts - - there were simply mothers who taught their daughters who taught their daughters and so on.  We passed the knowledge from parent to parent and that is what Real Diaper Circles do.  Circles connect cloth diapering parents with one another to share knowledge. Want to learn about cloth diapers?  Find someone who uses or used them on their children.  Let them be your guide. Want to spread the word about cloth diapers?  Help someone near you learn about cloth diapers. Heather McNamara Executive Director, Real Diaper Association

Steady As She Goes; 100% Reusable Cloth Diaper Movement Stands Strong

I read with interest Jenn Labit's recommendations to the cloth diaper industry posted this week on her web site. Jenn is the owner of a large cloth diaper company and this piece continues her work in the diapering industry.  Though not directly part of the industry, I feel compelled to respond to a part of her post:

"Interestingly, the hybrid option has been greeted with open arms by consumers, but met with opposition from within the industry, a sentiment expressed last year in a reactionary marketing campaign designed to rally support for 100% reusables. The campaign was greeted with support by bloggers and retailers within the industry, but among consumers we polled, the messaging was interpreted as potentially offensive to families unable or unwilling to use cloth diapers full time."

Far from reactionary, the Real Diaper Association's 100% campaign was a continuation of our longtime advocacy for 100% reusable diapers. Furthermore, any message can be "potentially" offensive, and we are unwilling to modify our message based on this sort of speculation.  In fact, we were careful to administer the campaign using entirely positive language, in keeping with our organizational value of nonviolent communication. Despite our quibbles with Jenn's statement, it actually served to renew our dedication to reusable diaper support and also helped us confirm that we are going about our work the right way: face-to-face and nonviolently.  At RDA, we focus on providing local, direct support for moms, dads, and caregivers who want or hope to use reusable diapers. This person-to-person support to overcome obstacles to cloth diapering is crucial, and this is why we feel comfortable with a strong message. Our Circle Leaders are trained in nonviolent communication and we even role-play scenarios dealing with hybrid issues. We do not criticize, in person or online, those moms, dads, and caregivers who choose any form of disposable diaper. Nor do we denigrate those retailers and manufacturers who make and sell hybrids.  Businesses frequently make decisions such as whether to make and sell hybrid diapers based on the effect such decisions will have on  profits.  The Real Diaper Association is not a business driven by a bottom line.  Our mission is clear and we will continue to support families in realizing the benefits of cloth diapers to the environment, their babies' health, and their wallets - - benefits that can only be achieved through 100% reusable cloth diapers. Lastly, this mission is not driven by elitism but rather by egalitarianism - we hope to empower and support families in using (and reusing) cloth diapers, and we do all we can to change the systems that prevent them from doing so. We will continue to support all those people, businesses, and organizations engaged in reducing waste, increasing baby comfort, and being good stewards of the earth.

It's not about diaper "choice"

When I interview volunteers to become Real Diaper Circle Leaders, I used to ask them if they've ever "convinced" anyone to use cloth diapers.  Never have I gotten a straight "yes" to that question, despite the fact that virtually all these volunteers have spread the cloth diaper love to people around them before even coming to the Real Diaper Association to start a Circle.  Why the hesitation?  Because it's not about "convincing" anyone.  Honestly, simply introducing people to the benefits of cloth diapers - for the environment, for the health of their babies, and to save their family thousands of dollars - is enough to "convince" them to choose cloth diapers. But are parents truly free to choose cloth diapers?  I believe that all people would choose the benefits of cloth diapers over the expense, waste, and dangers of the throwaway variety, if not for certain obstacles standing in their way, such as the following:
  • Knowledge about using cloth diapers
  • Daycare
  • Laundering knowledge
  • Laundry access
  • Startup costs
The Real Diaper Association (and the many people and businesses who align themselves with the RDA) works in myriad ways to break down those barriers so every parent can cloth diaper full time.  Because would you really spend money to buy ugly plastic, chemical-filled, single-use diapers if you REALLY were free to choose? Heather McNamara Executive Director, Real Diaper Association

A Baby Shower Gift that Keeps On Giving

My sister, a teacher at a new charter school, is working with her fifth-grade students to create a time capsule that they can bury for future generations to uncover.  They are including information about their lives, their identities--the things and people important to them. It occurs to me that we're leaving our own time capsules in the form of non-decomposing plastic disposable diapers.  And the generations who uncover them to learn about us will open these time capsules to discover... My gift to my children is that I try to limit the garbage capsules I leave for them and their children to deal with in the future.  Instead, I hope to leave them an earth that will nurture and support them. Heather McNamara Executive Director, Real Diaper Association

It's about more than diapers...

The Real Diaper Circle of Wayne County, NC recently celebrated their first anniversary as an accredited RDA Circle.  Leader (and RDA Board member) Heather Bradley wrote the following in honor of the occasion.

I am so excited about this! Goldsboro isn't a very large town, and I'm fairly sure that the main driving force behind many forward progressions is because of the military base. The majority of the attendees at our meetings are military or military spouses. I wasn't sure that a group based on cloth diapering would be successful. Yet, I am happy to report that one year in, we're still here! It has been so great to see the babies grow over the year, welcome new squishies, and meet people in our community. I can't wait to see what the next year as a circle leader will bring.

Since it was our anniversary, I decided to go back and look at my vision from when I was in training. Here is what it said:

"My vision for my Real Diaper Circle is probably not as big as a lot of the other leaders. I am not hoping to reach a mass of people and coordinate numerous events. I know this may sound like I am not thinking big enough, but I am trying to economize my efforts. I would like to set up my RDC goals like stepping stones rather than mountains to cross. My goal for my RDC is to reach out and really connect with the mothers in my community. I live on an Air Force base, and my group will be held here. If I am able to handle the small group on base, I plan to set up a meeting off base as well. I am also working on getting a LLL group started on base. I would love to see a sort of bond between the mothers in my area. My purpose in starting a RDC and LLL group is not just to educate people. It's to empower them and return that sense of confidence that a lot of the modern "conveniences" have stolen from us. This is bigger than just saving a few dollars and reducing the amount of waste that we are creating. This is about tying a knot back in the thread that keeps this world attached to those in it. Our children are not inconveniences, and I feel that a lot of the baby gadgets of the day tell mothers that they are. My purpose is to put the information in the right hands. As parents in our culture, we are taught that we know nothing; that we need commercials and books to teach us to be good parents. I would like to help create a system of parents who have the knowledge they need and can keep passing that along.

I hope to create a small group of people who feel confident in their ability to parent. Cloth diapering goes hand in hand with responsible parenting. I hope that by seeing a mother that is just like themselves, the parents in my area will feel more secure about their ability to make good decisions. I plan to get more babies in cloth by getting the parents in my community to see how beneficial responsible parenting can be. That attitude radiates from caring parents and rubs off on the people they come in contact with. My meetings will center on education and fostering warm feelings about parent/child interactions. When there are returning attendees, I would like to talk about ways to get more people involved."

Real Diaper Circle of Wayne County, NC

Real Diaper Circle of Wayne County, NC

I am SO proud of myself because the only things that I have not done are very minor. My circle doesn't meet on the base as I had originally planned because I was able to find an off-base location. I think that was the best way to serve the whole community. I think that I set my expectations at a reasonable level and it's a real boost to see items checked off of my goals list.

I plan to continue helping families in the community find a love for parenting. I also want to help families with older children find their place in helping the new families. We all need mentors and our value doesn't disappear once our children are out of diapers. I want to help spread the message that the RDA is for everyone. If you have no children in diapers but still have a passion for cloth, you have a place here. That has always been something very striking about LLL for me. When I go to LLL conferences, it makes me feel better to talk to a leader who has been in the organization for 10, 15, or 20 (!) years. No one sticks with something for 20 years that they don't have very strong feelings towards. I feel strongly about cloth diapers. I want to be here for the long haul and keep good friends around me to do that with. :)

Congratulations, Real Diaper Circle of Wayne County! You're making a difference in your community by helping families choose and use reusable cloth diapers!

Diaper Aid Hub - a Real Diaper Association project

One of our goals for this year is related to cloth diaper incentives and subsidies. We want to support Leaders and volunteers in increasing the use of cloth diapers in their communities by working with their local social service agencies to distribute cloth diapers to low-income clients and/or working with their municipal governments to offer local incentives to use cloth diapers. We have created a Facebook page to serve as a hub for these efforts. The Diaper Aid Hub is the forum for us to discuss how we can make it easier for low-income families to find and use reusable cloth diapers. With a third of US families and a fifth of Canadian families reporting diaper need (cutting back on essentials to afford diapers), cloth diapers need to enter the conversation. This page is the space where we can work with volunteer cloth diaper advocates to help low-income families find and use reusable cloth diapers via

a. education,

b. direct aid from social service organizations, and/or

c. municipal government subsidies.

Please join us here and spread the word:

In a few weeks, I will be presenting a session at the Real Diaper Industry Association (RDIA) annual meeting in Louisville related to this effort.

I will be talking about how to advocate for government incentives, including providing handouts for use by participants. We will soon be making these materials available to the public for anyone who wants to pursue this in their community.

I will also be talking about another facet of this effort - specifically focused on direct cloth diaper aid. As part of this effort, we're conducting a survey to analyze existing diaper aid programs so that we can provide guidance to volunteers to establish similar programs in their communities. If you have donated cloth diapers OR have received cloth diapers via a program aimed at low-income families, please take the survey. Please also publicize this survey to your clients / friends / followers so we can get as much information as possible.

Heather McNamara
Executive Director, Real Diaper Association

Advertising with RDA

Q: What sort of advertising will be available and how much will it cost? Two banner placements will be available: 468x60 at the top and 120x60 at the side of both the Real Diaper Association and sites. Please note that we reserve the right to refuse any advertising.

Q: Will funds spent on advertising be tax deductible? A: No. Real Diaper Association is a 501(c)(3) tax exempt organization, but money spent on advertising is not considered a donation because the advertising on the website is a service rendered by RDA.

I'll be away, but you'll be in good hands.

Tim, my husband, taught high school for the first time this year and it was an intense year.  His last day is tomorrow, then he has a month off.  We're leaving for the mountains Saturday (yes, we will be attempting to go through LA during Carmageddon - awesome.)  We will be dark until Thursday evening.

However, you'll be in good hands while I'm gone. Cynthia Thompson is our hippie Portlander who is "famous" for her use of family cloth.   Her daughter is 8 but Cynthia continues her cloth diaper advocacy by leading the RDA Board, running her long-time cloth diaper retail store, Zoom Baby Gear, supporting local moms in sewing their own diapers, and working within the Portland social services to develop low-income cloth diaper distribution programs.  She has been with RDA longer than I have and, after meeting weekly with the Board for years, truly has the lifeblood of RDA's commitment to 100% reusable cloth diapers running through her veins.  (She's also started sounding very presidential of late, which becomes her well!)

Lori Taylor is a founder of both the Real Diaper Association and the Real Diaper Industry Association and is the essence of cloth diaper advocacy.  It is by all rights that she takes the role of RDA faithkeeper to keep the organization focused on the mission of real diaper advocacy.  Lori is TIRELESS and devotes enormous amounts of volunteer time to RDA and RDIA while running 2 cloth diaper manufacturing companies, a web consulting business, AND homeschooling her two children.  But will she respond to you if you need something?  Yup.  She will.

Angela Imes is incredibly busy with three small kids and one on the way but she has the RDA financials firmly under control.  Angela is a CPA and she's a GOOD CPA.  And we're lucky to have our organization in such capable hands.  Our books are immaculate and that's often a huge obstacle for small volunteer organizations.  Angela's also a leading voice on improving the Real Diaper Circle program.  If you have input, she'll help make it happen.

Marie DiCocco has been silently handling our website and memberships for years.  Her daughter is long out of diapers, but Marie is committed to the people in this organization.  We have become family and she gives to this organization as if we were part of her Italian family.  Marie's diapering practice more closely resembled that of a previous generation - flats and covers - and she is a wonderful reminder that diapering doesn't have to be all that complicated.

Monique Bragg is all enthusiasm.  She puts her whole self into helping wherever she can (while handling a full-time job).  She's not likely to say no to anything.  She has ideas and she's not afraid to share them!  She brings a lot of life to our day-to-day efforts!  Thankfully, we are the beneficiary of her enormous energy as she naturally rose to the role of Chair of the Great Cloth Diaper Change 2012 Organizing Committee.  Starting as a host in 2011, she made herself so darn helpful that she got sucked onto the organizing committee as a sort of Host Liaison last year, and her continuing drive to make it better led her straight into leading it all this year.  Side note: Monique's got this great committee, too, consisting of Judy (of Tiny Tots) and Kim (of Rockin' Green) from last year's committee, and Melissa (of One Posh Baby in Edmonton), Elizabeth (Oklahoma Real Diaper Circle Leader), Carrie (of Bitty Baby in South Carolina), and Brenda (of the DFW Cloth Diaper group), all leading Great Cloth Diaper Change hosts from 2011.  They have some amazing ideas collected from a survey of last year's hosts and they're already meeting to decide on the date for next year.

Heather Bradley is the Circle Queen.  She was a fantastic Circle Leader trainee - always asking questions unapologetically (great model for her homeschooled children!).  She is now a dedicated Circle Leader in Goldsboro, North Carolina, where she has grown her Circle to actually be solid enough to hand off to a successor as she gets transferred to another military base in England in the fall.  This hasn't happened before, but it's the future and Heather's leading us there.  She has a vision of long-term committed cloth diaper advocates, reminiscent of long-time La Leche League leaders.  And if you don't want to work directly with the moms of small babies anymore, we have a place for you to participate elsewhere in RDA.  She is inviting our volunteers into a community where we support one another in advancing the mission we all support.

Need local help?  You can talk to any of our accredited Circle Leaders: Ann in NoVa, Sara in the SF Bay Area, Katrina in Chicago, Michelle in NJ, Marissa on the Emerald Coast, Bernice in NW Arkansas, Andrea in NW Montana, Selina in DE, Megan in PA, Melanie in the Shenandoah Valley, Julia in Rochester (NY), Rose in the OC, and Vikki and Jenn in the NY Capital Region and the MA/NY/VT tristate area (in addition to the aforementioned Cynthia in Portland, Angela in Plano, Heather B in Goldsboro, Elizabeth in OK, and me in San Diego).

The Real Diaper Association actually includes hundreds of other members and volunteers, but this crew should be able to answer your questions or direct you to the right place in my absence.  Ah, you'll all be fine.  Try not to miss me too much!

Heather McNamara
Executive Director, Real Diaper Association