Redistributing nappies to support families in crisis.
Earlier this year, trawling through Facebook, I stumbled on an initiative called The Nappy Collective. You may have heard of it by now and if you haven’t, now you have. It’s one of those ideas you wish you had thought up; one of those ideas where the dots just seem to connect so perfectly making a win-win-win situation for all involved, including our precious environment. In short, The Nappy Collective collects families’ leftover unused disposable nappies and redistributes them to organisations that support families in crisis or in need.
I caught up with two of the women on the Collective’s Board, Moran Dvir and Founder, Sandra Jacobs to learn more.
How did The Nappy Collective start – what was the motivation behind it, how did the idea get off the ground?
In 2013 I found a stash of leftover nappies my toddler had outgrown. Through voluntary work with McAuley Care, I’d learnt firsthand of the difficulties mothers faced when arriving at a shelter. There were awful stories of mums not changing their babies regularly because they could not afford nappies, which led to subsequent health problems. Baby supplies were desperately needed, but my handful of nappies weren’t going to make a difference. Surely, every parent had a stash of nappies they no longer needed? Collectively, everyone’s handful could make a real difference and alleviate some of the financial and emotional stress of caring for young children in crisis. In October 2013, together with Lisa Midler, I organised the first Nappy Collective at The Staple Store. In two weeks, 1500 nappies were donated. The Nappy Collective was born! Shortly after, a Board of four professional women (all mothers) was formed, sharing my vision for establishing collectives around Australia. In March 2014, The Nappy Collective collected 26,682 nappies in 22 locations in Melbourne and Sydney. The July collective will see nappies collected in 75 locations around Australia.
How does it work?
Leftover nappies are collected in different collection points around Australia. For the July collective, we have expanded to collect nappies in Perth, Brisbane, Geelong, Byron Bay and Newcastle. In each state, the nappies arrive to a central location straight after each collective is over. We are lucky to have businesses provide storage and office space during this time. We then hold our sorting day as soon as possible. This is actually a fun and really rewarding day, with all our kids, family and friends coming together to sort nappies! Nappies are unpacked and then sorted by size, just like in the supermarket – newborn, infant, crawler, toddler, junior, pull ups and night time nappies, as well as swimmers (in Melbourne, for example, we donate swimming nappies to a program run by Melbourne Citymission for vulnerable young mums that runs swimming sessions for mums and bubs to encourage bonding for the mum and bub and infant development). We then count and re-pack the nappies by size, and begin the process of allocating nappies to each beneficiary. Some have special requests like a particular size they require more of. The nappies are then picked up from this location in the next week or two by each beneficiary. Our purpose is not to hold on to and store the nappies, it’s to get them out immediately to the families that need them desperately.
Who is benefitting from the Collective?
We primarily donate nappies to women’s refuges with a focus to assisting mums who have fled family violence. Many of these women arrive to a shelter without even a handbag and several kids in tow, let alone a packet of nappies or all the baby/kids supplies we all tote around with us. There was one mother who decided to escape her violent partner after giving birth and arrived to a Melbourne shelter in her nightgown straight from the hospital. Most of these mothers have limited financial means, their partners do not provide them with money or cut up their credit cards as part of their abuse. In addition to women’s shelters, we also supply nappies to various charitable organisations like St Kilda Mums, Whitelion, Barnardos and City Mission. They distribute the nappies to families in dire straits – facing homelessness or just simply struggling to stay afloat and provide for their little ones. Families will often sacrifice other basic essentials like food or medicine for a packet of nappies.
Can you share one ‘feel good’ story from the work the Collective is doing?
During our last collective, we received this message on Facebook.
“Hi Nappy Collective angels, I just wanted to say thank you for your awesome work. Between myself and another friend I think we just donated close to 100 nappies. But this cause is somewhat close to my heart, as my mum fled from my abusive father when I was four years old, so whilst I wasn’t in nappies, it’s thanks to organisations like yours that make it a little easier for mums (and dads) to do what they have to keep their families safe. Thank you. May angel light surround you all and your families and keep them safe.”
Needless to say this was very touching for us and a proud moment. We get messages from the caseworkers how a packet of nappies can brighten the day of a mum in crisis. We’ve been out to visit some shelters and it is real and confronting. There are mums in shelters right now not knowing how they can afford nappies for their little one instead of using their energy on rebuilding their lives.
I also like to think of the nappies as an ‘invisible hug’ to each mum from another mum in the community. They know the nappies are donated by other families and it’s a way of acknowledging their situation and showing they care.
How can people be involved – businesses, individuals, organisations?
Businesses can sign up to be drop points around Australia. We ask people and organisations to also help us by spreading the word about our collectives. Social media has been an enormous tool for us, and is a great way for people to share information on us. Mums are particularly great at doing this!
We are also very fortunate that several organisations and businesses have created wonderful relationships with us and partner with us to support families in crisis. This includes the City of Stonnington in Victoria, Toys R Us who approached us to help collect nappies, St Vincent’s Private Hospital who collect their leftover newborn nappies for us, as well as many businesses and individuals who provide in kind support for our organisation.
What are some the outcomes from the initiative so far?
Being able to provide thousands of nappies to families in need, expanding from one drop point in October to 22 in March, to 75 in July.
Raising awareness and empathy for mothers in shelters, particularly from other mothers. A common response from mums we speak to is, “I never thought about not being able to buy nappies.” Although family violence is pervasive, mothers in shelters remain hidden and many live their lives on the run with their children from their violent partner. One important outcome for us is raising awareness of mums and children who are in this situation in our own country. We hope this starts a dialogue among everyday parents that family violence is not on.
Why do you think it has been so successful so early on?
I think The Nappy Collective has a few elements that really resonate with people which inspires them to act. Firstly, our call to action is really simple – give us your leftover unused nappies and we’ll pass them on to a family in crisis. Secondly, our collectives run for just two weeks at a time, three times a year. There is very little ‘donor fatigue’ like other campaigns or charities that need ongoing support or action. Our calls for donations are ‘rested’ in between collectives, so it gives people a time to have a break, accumulate more nappies and a chance for us to diversify our donors. With around 300,000 babies born every year in Australia, there is no shortage of new parents to target every collective! I also think The Nappy Collective gives a clear, straightforward way for people in the community to directly help mums in shelters and families in crisis (without even opening their wallets). Donating a few leftover nappies actually feels great when you know that they are going directly to a family in real hardship. They might be facing homelessness, or living in a women’s refuge, but as parents, we can all relate to wanting to do the best for our kids, even if that’s just giving your baby a clean bottom! Supplying nappies takes away some financial strain and alleviates the stress and negative feeling of not being able to provide for your baby. I also think the recent spate of family violence tragedies in the media have helped bring this terrible issue out in the open, and people are thinking and talking about it more. The Nappy Collective brings a small but impactful opportunity to reach out to these families and acknowledge their hardship by donating nappies.
What have you learned on the journey so far?
To grow organically. We have received a wonderful response from around Australia, especially from mothers who want to help set up collectives in their area. During our March collective, we received dozens of emails a week from mums around the country who wanted to get involved. This response has helped us grow in the right way.
I personally have learnt to actually voice what we want to achieve, and tell people our vision and goals. If you don’t tell people what you want, you’ll never know if they can help you get there. I’ve also learnt to continue being positive, passionate and proud about our work.
What challenges have arisen and how have you overcome them?
Probably the biggest challenge was setting up teams interstate remotely. We were very lucky to have been connected with or approached by women who are committed and share our passion for what we do. Apart from that, we have had a great ride. I think this is largely because there is a lot of goodwill in the community and we are able to harness and direct that goodwill in a constructive and impactful way.
What has been the most surprising aspect of the collective?
We continue to be bowled over by the warm, enthusiastic and engaging response from people, bloggers, organisations and businesses about what we do. Also the fact that we have grown so quickly and how much we have achieved – from one to 80 collectives in nine months!
Given the initial success of the initiative, are there plans for this model to be used in other countries and perhaps for other products that could help people in need?
At the moment, we are focused on our steady and smooth expansion within Australia. We are pleased to be collaborating with other NFPs by supplying them nappies to their current distribution processes, but do not wish to duplicate their work by collecting other goods. Our focus remains and will remain only on nappies as there are numerous organisations collecting baby and kids goods, so rather than replicating their work, we collaborate with them and fill the gaps with nappies. Nappies are universal, most families have some spares or leftovers, and there is no screening or safety checks involved requiring ongoing large storage space and teams of regular volunteers. We want to get the nappies out of people’s cupboards and onto little bums around Australia!
DROP OFF YOUR LEFTOVER UNUSED NAPPIES IN MELBOURNE, GEELONG, SYDNEY, NEWCASTLE, BYRON BAY, PERTH OR BRISBANE JULY 21 – AUGUST 4, 2014. SEE HERE FOR DETAILS.
CHECK OUT THE NAPPY COLLECTIVE ON FACEBOOK.
Miriam Hechtman – Editor
From documentary filmmaking, producing and research, to finally landing on the page and writing, Miriam has traveled far and wide, on trains, planes and buses, all the while meeting extraordinary people on her adventure. She is also the mother of Noa and Lina, wife of Guy, and a reader, singer and baker when time permits. She has now fused her passion for community, celebrating women, and publishing to bring you WonderWomen. She hopes you love it. You can look at some of Miriam’s work at movingtrainsproductions.wordpress.com and holocaustsurvivors.wordpress.com
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