PASCO -- Cindy Williams couldn't talk about the young woman without choking back tears.
As a volunteer for the Adventist Community Food Bank, she has seen poverty, need and hunger. But when Williams saw the woman with her infant, she had to go beyond volunteering.
She bought a box of diapers.
In the course of a few short weeks, her effort to help one woman has given birth to a new institution -- the Tri-City Diaper Bank. The nonprofit distributes diapers to social service agencies and is the first of its kind in Southeastern Washington.
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It was started with the help of a hundred compassionate kids.
Buying some diapers
Williams works at the food bank every week. She sorts clothes, helps out on the computer and works the counter.
In early November, a girl with a young baby came up to her. The girl had received her food box, and Williams asked if she had everything she needed.
"She said, 'I don't have any clothes for my baby,'" Williams said. "After I put together some baby clothes, she asked if we had any diapers. We didn't."
Williams tears up at the memory of not being able to help.
Next she made sure she wouldn't feel the same way the next week.
"I knew she'd be back, so I bought some small diapers," she said.
Williams asked around and heard that requests for diapers came up a lot. She asked the food bank about setting up a diaper program but was told that nobody could take on the extra work of getting it organized. The food bank is volunteer-run and has its hands full with the demand for food and clothes.
"I told her, 'I'm going to let you run with that,' " said LeEllen Bradshaw, the food bank's community services director.
Williams saw the great need and, after some research, realized what diapers mean to poor parents.
A basic human need
Disposable diapers cost about $100 per child each month, said Adra Johnson, assistant director of the food bank. And you can't buy diapers with food stamps.
That means many parents have to choose between buying food or buying diapers. This often means they dry used diapers and re-use them, Williams said.
Cloth diapers pose other problems. Laundromats don't allow washing diapers in their machines, for example. And day cares don't allow kids to be dropped off with cloth diapers.
They also require that kids are left with an adequate supply of diapers, which means that parents who can't afford to buy a big box of them can't put their kids in day care, which means they can't go look for work.
That is how the lack of diapers can contribute to keeping people in the cycle of poverty, Williams said.
"People relate to food issues, but we need to raise awareness that diapers are a basic human need," she said.
They already have raised that awareness in one group -- and received a big boost in return.
Getting the kids involved
Williams turned to the school that two of her children attend -- the Tri-City Junior Academy, a Seventh-Day Adventist school in Pasco that regularly organizes fundraisers to help the community.
She asked them to hold a diaper drive. Teachers voted in favor of her project, and she gained 118 young, energetic helpers for her mission.
To help the giving spirit along, Principal Anthony Oucharek promised a pizza party for the classroom that collected the most diapers.
Williams thought the students and teachers could gather about 3,000 diapers during the first week of December.
"Then the numbers just kept climbing," she said.
By the week's end, the hallway almost was impassable with stacks of diapers. And still the diapers kept coming.
In the end, students collected more than 12,000 diapers, and the one-time drive had turned into a permanent program.
A new resource
The Tri-City Diaper Bank now is a registered nonprofit with Johnson as its interim director. The group will send out surveys to Tri-City social service agencies to figure out who needs diapers.
Its mission will not be to give diapers to individual parents, but to supply agencies that already help the poor.
It has given out about 1,000 diapers this week, to groups such as Safe Harbor Crisis Nursery and the Children's Developmental Center.
The group also plans to apply for grants from corporations and government agencies.
The program is so new, the Benton-Franklin Health District hadn't heard about it earlier this week.
"I think that's great news," said Sandy Owen, the district's director of preventative health services. "All the programs around here could use that."
And school officials hope the program gives back to the students, as well.
Kids helping kids
Helping people is as much a part of a Christian education as are textbooks and math tests, Oucharek said.
"My goal is that students leave with a social consciousness," he said.
Students in third- and fourth-grade already help at the food bank once a week.
"If you're going to teach that something is important, then you've got to put it into action," Oucharek said.
The promise of pizza added to their motivation.
Marsean Ologbosele really wanted his class to get the pizza. He dragged his mother, Teira Young, to the store not just once -- but every day for a week.
The 10-year-old brought about 800 diapers to school, more than any other student.
But while his competitive spirit might have been the spark, the underlying tragic story of poverty was not lost on the fifth-grader.
"I wouldn't want to use the same diaper over and over," he said. "I thought that was really sad."