The Pittsburgh Foundation

All-in-one deliveryProviding diapers and economic opportunity for Pittsburghers in need

Left to right: Western Pennsylvania Diaper Bank volunteers Willa Mae Hubbard and Arlene L. Harris pack donations for distribution across Allegheny County.

Kitty Julian

By Kitty Julian
Kitty Julian is director of communications at The Pittsburgh Foundation.


REVEREND PHILIP BATTLE, JR. learned his lesson back in 1994: when mothers and grandmothers tell you they can’t get diapers, you listen to them. Then a pastor in the Toledo, Ohio, area, Pastor Battle was meeting at his church with women raising young children on their own and asked them what the congregation could do that no other agency was doing to assist them in raising their children. 

“They all responded at once, like a choir, ‘Diapers!’ My initial reaction was that they had to be wrong. There’s no way that could be true, I thought. But it turns out they were right,” he says. “It just never occurred to me that something as basic as diapers would be such a problem.”

Pastor Battle had to catch up to what the mothers and grandmothers knew from their own life experiences: federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program regulations bar recipients from using funds to purchase any non-food item, including essentials such as diapers or baby wipes. 

Even discount-brand diapers cost $80 to $100 per month for each child through his or her first three years. 

By the estimates of the Western Pennsylvania Diaper Bank, the organization founded by Battle and his wife, Cathy, in 2012, the diaper gap is 77,000 per day in Allegheny County alone. The Bank provides adult diapers, too, for low-income older people. 

Diaper donations made from 2012-2016

Shortages lead to increased risk of rashes and urinary tract infections, but can also trigger economic crises for low-income families. Most child care centers require families to supply diapers for their own children. Coming up short prevents parents from going to work or school — a significant setback for those trying to climb out of poverty. 

The Pittsburgh Foundation is now supporting diaper access through its new Small and Mighty grants program. Small and Mighty developed from an 18-month review the Foundation made of its own grant-making practices, which found that, though two-thirds of the region’s 3,100 nonprofits have budgets less than $100,000, only 18 percent of the proposals the Foundation funded in 2015 came from small nonprofits.

Small and Mighty is a direct out­come of the 100 Percent Pittsburgh organizing principle, which commits about 60 percent of the Foundation’s grants to providing those who have been shut out with access to the region’s revitalized economy.

“Our 100 Percent Pittsburgh organizing principle is grounded in the idea that we should turn to affected communities for solutions,” says Senior Program Officer Michelle McMurray, who leads Small and Mighty. “But in reviewing our own grant-making history, we now realize we haven’t been doing enough to fund small nonprofits that were started in and are run by people who live and work in the community.” 

In December, $230,000 in Small and Mighty grants were awarded to 18 nonprofits with budgets of $600,000 or less. These grants, which range in size from $5,000 to $15,000, position nimble nonprofits to significantly increase their impact. 

With a $15,000 operating grant, the Diaper Bank has hired its first employee, a part-timer to coordinate administrative duties, including data management, tracking donations and scheduling pickup and delivery services. Under the supervision of Cathy Battle — who works three days a week as a respiratory therapist, spends Sunday in church, and then serves as executive director of the Bank for the remainder of the workweek — the organization collected and distributed 181,000 diapers out of its Point Breeze warehouse last year. 

“Our most dedicated volunteers are 70 or 80 years old, or working full time,” says the Diaper Bank’s outreach consultant, Diane Wuycheck, “Without operating support to fund the Mission Logistics partnership, we’d be driving diapers around to drop-off sites in personal vehicles.” 

The extra operating support also has positioned Cathy to unlock a potential donation of 250,000 diapers from Huggies this year. 

“One in three Americans is struggling to provide diapers to their babies, who are the most innocent … and they are our future. We have to do whatever it takes to help them,” she says. 

Original story appeared in Forum Quarterly - Spring 2017