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The Crappy Thing about Disasters

It’s easy to feel quite bad when one witnesses the devastation experienced by people in Houston, Florida, and Puerto Rico. What is more difficult is knowing how to help.

In “The Baby in the Well” (, Paul Bloom highlights how Newtown was inundated with toys following the massacre at Sandy Hook to the point that 800 volunteers were hired to pack whole warehouses with the barrage of toys, all while millions of children in the US go to bed hungry. Empathy, he argues, has drawbacks when it interferes with logic; however, he correctly points out that when applied with precision, the ends can certainly be worthwhile.

With the degree of natural disaster relief that is needed in Texas and Florida (as well as elsewhere in the world), it is easy to be overwhelmed with what to do and how to do it. Without a doubt, many organizations do amazing work and can often stretch donations much further than the average consumer can when it comes to buying food, water, and other items, yet our sense of empathy makes us want to help in more direct ways than writing a check. Indeed, small groups can often provide immediate relief via clothes, food, and blood drives. But there’s something many people overlook.

I encourage you to think about diapers.  Under the best of circumstances, nearly 30% of families cannot afford diapers. For women in need, getting diapers can be difficult even under normal circumstances. SNAP benefits don’t cover diapers, nor does Medicaid, and many low-income women cite diaper insecurity as being more challenging than food insecurity. Indeed, diaper purchasing takes up to 14% of post-tax income for a family in the poorest quintile of the US but only 3% for those in the middle. In addition, many day care centers and preschool programs require that parents provide an adequate numbers of diapers, and if this criteria can’t be met the child cannot attend.

All of this rests heavy on many moms’ shoulders and the challenge only becomes worse when families must leave everything behind en masse as happens with natural disasters. Displaced families can often only bring what they can carry, including diapers. Too often, diapers are not thought of when it comes to donations, particularly for adults whose children have (thankfully) moved past needing them. But babies keep needing them, and even for those that typically opt for cloth, disposable may be necessary during these difficult times.

Natural disasters have a way of reminding us how powerless we are to control aspects of our lives and can sometimes level the playing field, at least in the short-term, between the have’s and the have-not’s. The need for diapers is always there for too many mothers and children, but with several consecutive massive storms, many more than usual are in need. Donations help, of course, but let’s try to remember the need that many of these moms will take home with them once the waters recede.

For more information, contact the National Diaper Bank Network or donate to local organizations for mothers in need.

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