CINCINNATI -- Greater Cincinnati's only diaper bank, started in 2015, provided more than 153,000 diapers last year to families in need, and its founder quit her day job this month to grow the nonprofit organization full time.
In its first 18 months, Sweet Cheeks Diaper Bank went from an idea Milford native Megan Fischer felt compelled to pursue to a nonprofit organization delivering 30,000 diapers a month to seven social-service agencies around the region. Another 16 agencies are on a wait-list to receive diapers from Sweet Cheeks.
"We would like to double our distribution in 2017," said Fischer, who, as executive director, is the nonprofit organization's only full-time employee.
Sweet Cheeks Diaper Bank was born at the end of a long fall down a Google rabbit hole. Fischer, then 8 months pregnant with her second child and using cloth diapers on her oldest, clicked on a story about a cloth diaper bank in the Midwest. That led her to more stories explaining why diaper banks, which collect diapers for families in need, are necessary in the first place.
Surely, Fischer thought, low-income parents could buy diapers with Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits, more commonly known as food stamps. But they can't. Well, then, what about Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC)? Those benefits won't buy diapers either.
"I kept thinking, 'Is the answer really no?' and I just kept clicking through, trying to figure it out," Fischer said.
Temporary Aid For Needy Families (TANF), a temporary cash assistance meant to help with rent and utilities, can be used for diapers if money is left after housing costs. That rarely happens. Ohio TANF benefits cover only about 60 percent of fair-market rents, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.
That means families are left rationing diapers, which can eat up as much as 6 percent of the gross income of a minimum-wage job. Fischer couldn't shake the images of a parent unable to keep her baby clean and dry and a baby dependent on a parent who couldn't care for him properly.
"That really got to me. I'm in my cube at work, crying," Fischer said. "I kept thinking, ‘Where is our diaper bank?' With Cincinnati's child poverty rate, we should have a diaper bank."
More than half of Cincinnati's children live in poverty, the second highest rate in the nation, according to the U.S. Census. And yet, when Fischer finally called 211, she was told there was no diaper bank in the region, though there are some churches that sometimes have diapers for needy families -- maybe, no guarantees, if you show up on the right day.
"And at that point," Fischer said, "I said, 'I just think it's supposed to be me who starts one.'"
Fischer started with a diaper drive at her workplace, Cengage Learning, and ended up with 3,000 diapers in her basement and her first volunteer, Andrea Meyer, a coworker who had previously worked at the American Cancer Society. As Fischer filed the organization as a nonprofit, she also collected a team of volunteers who could help with website development, accounting and strategic planning. When she didn't know how to do something, she returned to Google.
The Welcome House of Northern Kentucky, which serves homeless women and families, was the first agency to receive diapers from Sweet Cheeks.
"Diapers are always a constant need for us, and that's been alleviated a lot since we started working with Sweet Cheeks," said Kelly Rose, director of development and marketing for Welcome House. "Our clients are getting what they need now, and we're able to focus on other things they need."
So that the diapers aren't resold, they are unpackaged and rebundled by Sweet Cheeks before being distributed to social-service agencies like Welcome House. For the 30,000 diapers Sweet Cheeks distributed in January, that process took about eight hours of work, split into two shifts of about 10 volunteers.
Although Sweet Cheeks continues to receive donations, the organization is giving out many more diapers than it is given. It relies on cash donations -- from individuals, corporate sponsors or events -- to buy the diapers needed to meet agencies' demand. This also means that Sweet Cheeks is able to get the diapers most needed by each agency for their families.
"Before, we were sort of at the mercy of a donor," Rose said. "Maybe we had newborn diapers, but needed (size) 4 or 5 or pull-ups."
In 2016, Sweet Cheeks received about $28,000 in donations, a number that will have to increase if the organization meets its goal of doubling distribution in 2017. It's a daunting task, but considering that the organization blew past the goals it set for itself in a five-year strategic plan in less than two years, Fischer is ready to take it on.
Sweet Cheeks' largest fundraising event is the Diaper Dash, which is Aug. 26 at Smale Park. But other events, including a spring gala, are in the works.
To get involved, contact Sweet Cheeks at sweetcheeksdiaperbanks.org .