A surge in demand for diapers has forced officials at the Texas Diaper Bank to limit the number of people it serves as the economic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic hit the San Antonio area.

The bank works with many local programs to provide diapers to those unable to afford them and also offers incontinence and menstrual products. Ashley Hernandez, the nonprofit organization’s program officer, said the diaper bank has seen a 58 percent increase in the number of people seeking assistance.

To handle the demand, the organization has capped the number of people permitted to register to get diapers at 200 per month, but Hernandez said it’s not a hard cap, and if the organization can get additional funding and donations it will be able to raise that cap to 300 or more.

Normally the bank provides diapers for 150 to 200 children a month, so accepting up to 200 new enrollees each month will double the number of clients served, Hernandez said. About 53,000 clients are provided with diapers each year, either directly through the Texas Diaper Bank or indirectly through groups such as Family Violence Prevention Services, Haven for Hope, the Children’s Shelter, and others. In total, the bank serves 83,000 people with various products.

Through a partnership with Kimberly-Clark, makers of Huggies diapers, the diaper bank received more than 450,000 diapers right before the pandemic-induced increase in demand began. 

“We do have sufficient enough supply to get through the next two months,” Hernandez said. “But we’re dipping into our stock that was supposed to be our reserves.”

Hernandez said she welcomes diaper donations from the community, regardless of brand or size, but unopened packages are preferred.

“Just from the health and safety perspective, we don’t really want already opened diapers,” Hernandez said. “But we really are accepting anything. If you’re just needing a diaper to put on a baby, it’s not gonna matter what it is. We take H-E-B brand, off-brands, dollar store brand.”

To make the donation process safer, new bins will be installed outside the diaper bank’s Northwest San Antonio location soon, so donors can drop off diapers without entering the building. Hernandez said the biggest need right now is for sizes 4, 5, and 6, which are difficult to find in grocery stores, and she believes that’s a problem that could be fixed if everyone resisted the urge to buy more than they need.

“We’ve been encouraging people not to hoard, not just diapers, but other supplies as well,” Hernandez said. “It really does hurt the community. Don’t hoard diapers you don’t need, and allow other people to purchase those items that they need.”

Hernandez said the bank has seen an even sharper rise in demand for incontinence products, with a 70 percent increase. 

Adult diapers are more expensive than baby diapers, Hernandez said, and there has also been a shortage of incontinence products in stores, making the burden even heavier for many families.

The empty shelves in grocery stores all over town are only exacerbating the problem for those dealing with sudden unemployment or income loss caused by the many business closures, according to Alyssa Dominguez, the program manager for the diaper bank.

She said one family needed help with diapers after their daughter’s day care closed and the mother had to quit her job to stay home with the baby. Another mother was struggling to pay rent and was already working two jobs, Dominguez said.

“It’s just a lot of circumstances that are hitting the people who are already the most at risk,” Dominguez said.

In addition to dealing with the sudden increase in demand, the bank has been forced to change how it handles all client interactions, from new applications to diaper distribution, Hernandez said. 

Those wishing to sign up for the program can now enroll online, Hernandez said, and the bank has implemented a curbside system that allows clients to drive up and receive a three-month supply of diapers without leaving their cars or entering the building. Those needing incontinence supplies can receive a six-month supply at one time. 

 “We’re trying to create less visits to our office,” Hernandez said. “We’re trying to limit contact, and as the virus continues we want to shorten the amount of social interaction to make sure we’re not putting anyone at risk, including our employees.”

Hernandez said the bank is asking clients to only come when they have an appointment, but she said the word hasn’t reached everyone yet. When new applicants walk in looking for assistance, they will not be turned away, but will be considered on a case-by-case basis, Hernandez said. 

Clients with an income at 150 percent of the poverty level qualify to receive diapers and other products, but people who are newly unemployed also will qualify, Hernandez said. Documentation showing they have lost their job is required.

Even if clients don’t have all their paperwork in order, the bank can work with them to help get the documents they need to get assistance as soon as possible, she said. 

As waves of unemployment continue to ripple through the community, Hernandez said she expects to also see an increase in demand for the organization’s menstrual products program, called Healthy Women Period. 

The diaper bank is affiliated with the National Diaper Bank Network, which gives the local bank access to corporate sponsorships, but as a stand-alone nonprofit, the local bank relies heavily on grants and local donors, both corporate and individual.

Hernandez said the community can help support the diaper bank through the Amazon Smile program, which donates a portion of any Amazon sale to the charity.

“We are just hoping we can still make a great impact on our families and this community as we continue to serve them,” Hernandez said.

This article has been updated to clarify the number of clients served annually by the Texas Diaper Bank.

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Jennifer Norris

Jennifer Norris has been working in journalism since 2005. She's a native Texan, but a new San Antonian who is excited to get to know the city.