WAUKEGAN -- Reaching more young families in need was top of mind when Ann Marie Mathis added a mobile diaper pantry to the offerings of her then 8-year-old Lake County-based nonprofit, Twice As Nice Mother & Child.
Never in her wildest dreams, though, did she foresee the exponentially swift rise in the pantry's reach.
From 150 diapers handed out at that first cold, blustery session April 18, 2018, to upwards of 9,000 per session at the pantry's monthly Waukegan and Gurnee distributions today -- plus another 1,000 at each of two Highwood sessions monthly -- the growth rate is staggering.
"It's just overwhelming," said Mathis. "I knew there was a need, but when I think about how many families and children we're helping ... it has blown my mind just how successful it's been."
Pantry volunteers are celebrating the program's anniversary this month by handing out large, durable tote bags with the TANMC logo at each distribution. The bags not only should raise awareness and cut waste, but also will save the nonprofit money as clients reuse them, Mathis said.
Mathis started TANMC in her family's basement in 2010. Now located at 3250-B N. Oak Grove Ave., Waukegan, the organization assists families in crisis with diapers and other basic needs. By late March, 131,475 diapers had been distributed in the pantry's first 11 months, with 555 families and 753 children registered.
"We started the mobile pantry with our minivan," Mathis said. "Now we use our minivan plus a 16-foot trailer that belongs to the husband of one of my volunteers. We're in the market for a larger, dedicated truck for this program."
Mobile diaper pantry distributions take place once a month at the Warren-Newport Public Library in Gurnee and once a month at the Cristo Rey St. Martin College Prep school in Waukegan, as well as twice a month at the Highwood Recreation Center. Specific dates and times, as well as registration information, can be found at twiceasnicemc.org.
One-time registration with parent and child identification is necessary to receive services, Mathis said, adding that the data collected tracks areas of highest need and ensures accountability for grant providers.
"People can come twice a month and can receive up to 100 diapers or 50 pull-ups per child per month through the mobile pantry program," Mathis said. "Our goal is to get diapers into the hands of families who need them."
According to the National Diaper Bank Network, 5.2 million children in the U.S. aged 3 or younger live in poor or low-income families, and one in three U.S. families experiences diaper need. Safety net programs such as food stamps and WIC do not cover diapers, leaving some parents to choose between food and utilities or diapers. Many resort to leaving dirty diapers on a child longer than is healthy.
"I can't tell you how many parents say 'I don't know what I would do without this," Mathis said of those who arrive in mobile diaper pantry lines or otherwise request diaper assistance. "It's very rewarding to know you're helping not only the parents but the children as well with such a basic need."
TANMC is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit and accepts cash donations as well as donations of packaged diapers and pull-ups in all sizes. Learn more about ways to help at twiceasnicemc.org. For other information, send email to firstname.lastname@example.org or call 224-637-1644.
Remaining April Distributions
• 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Wednesday, April 17, Cristo Rey St. Martin College Prep, 3106 Belvidere Road, Waukegan.
• 4-5:30 p.m. Friday, April 26, Highwood Recreation Center, 432 Green Bay Road, Highwood.