“This is not just about a baby in a wet diaper.”
That’s how Bridget Cutler, a New Providence resident who’s founder and co-executive director of the Moms Helping Moms Foundation (MHM), explained the mission of the group.
Diaper and period products are a cog in the worker wheel often overlooked. Without these basic necessities, people miss work and school, causing more and continued poverty. MHM aims to break this cycle of poverty by providing those in need with products they need throughout the state, Cutler explained.
No baby should ever have to go without life’s basic necessities and no parent should be put in that position, Cutler said.
MHM is a baby item, diaper and period supply bank founded in 2011. Dedicated to creating a future without childhood poverty by providing babies with the essentials to ensure a safe and healthy start, the nonprofit organization hosts collection drives and other fundraisers as well as advocacy and awareness promotions.
One in three families struggles to afford diapers in the U.S.
Two in five females who menstruate have struggled to purchase period products this past year and one in three report missing work, school or similar events due to lack of access to period supplies. This is known as Period Poverty.
With the help of a dedicated staff and 300 volunteers, MHM collects and distributes new and gently used baby items, diapers and period supplies for its Healthy State for Babies Program.
This effort helps underserved families throughout New Jersey. Last year, the organization collected and distributed 1,627,122 diapers, period products and essential baby items— a 54% increase over 2021.
And the need continues to grow.
The concept was sparked by the birth of Cutler’s first child − a daughter − nearly 12 years ago.
Soon after her marriage, Cutler decided to change professions and went back to school to obtain her a master’s degree in Education.
“That was great, and I loved it,” she said. “And while I was doing that, I actually had my first daughter, and I was pregnant with my second − my son. I was in school and still feeling a little at odds. I came from a pretty high stress job in finance − lots of hours − and even though I was either pregnant or had a newborn and graduate school full time, I still had my days ‘free.’ I had a baby, but I’ve just always been somebody who wants to kind of get things done and be helpful and all that.”
She read an article about a new mother who gave up her child for adoption because she could not afford basic baby needs, like diapers. As she sat there reading and rocking her baby girl to sleep, something clicked.
“It was just devastating to think about,” Cutler said. “But I could absolutely put myself in those shoes. That was easy to imagine but I cannot imagine how devastating that would be. I started thinking there was something I could do, like right now.”
Cutler reached out to her network of friends, many of whom belonged to a new moms meetup, where everyone was exchanging baby items as the infants grew.
“So I was like, maybe we could find other families to get the stuff to − and that’s how it started,” she said. “I just started collecting. I reached out to my network and said, ‘Hey, whatever you guys have that you don’t need, give it to me. I’m going to donate it.”
But after she collected the items, Cutler ran into a roadblock.
“I couldn’t find anywhere that was willing to take these items,” she said. “I realized quickly that there really wasn’t any sort of central agency in New Jersey that was giving out free baby items. So I just started doing it myself.”
But that didn’t stop her. She continued giving out the items in a garage sale setting, with flyers advertising baby items posted around Hoboken where she was living.
Other members of the moms group joined the effort and one − Megan Deaton − proved invaluable.
A mother of twins, now 12, Deaton serves as co-executive director with Cutler. The organization’s base has moved from Hoboken to Somerset County, closer to where both women reside. The items are no longer stored in Cutler’s garage, but in a warehouse in Warren Township.
“I’ll be honest, it wasn’t this well-thought-out plan that I’m going to start a diaper bank,” Cutler said. “We kind of backed into becoming a real nonprofit after the first two years.”
MHM now serves the entire state in its “fight” to combat diaper and baby needs and period poverty.
“This is a missing piece of the puzzle,” Cutler said. “Diaper need basically is not being able to afford enough diapers to keep your baby clean and healthy. When they don’t have diapers, a lot of parents will reuse dirty diapers. If you don’t have diapers to put on your child, you’re not getting a whole lot done outside of the house. “
Diapers cost about $80 a month.
“We want these families to get back to work. They want to get back to work,” Cutler said. “They want to be successful and be able to provide for their children like everybody else like every other parent. But if they can’t afford diapers … they’re not able to do much of anything. “
And the same goes for a lack of menstrual products.
“Period poverty is the same kind of thing,” she said. “It’s people that can’t afford enough menstrual products to remain healthy. So they’re overusing products or they’re using alternatives. Paper or whatever they can find. And as you can imagine, it can be dangerous. “
It restricts the freedom to do what you need to do.
“If you are a person who menstruates and don’t have products, you’re not going anywhere,” Cutler said. “You’re not leaving the house. You’re not going to school and perhaps one of the worst things is, you can be 10 or 11 years old, which means you’re staying home from school for a week, every month.”
There are also mental health repercussions for a parent who cannot provide their kids with the basics, Cutler said.
“Imagine that baby in a wet diaper. That’s miserable. And guess what? You can’t change their diaper because you don’t have another diaper,” Cutler said. “That’s even more miserable and that parent feels like a failure at a job that’s already so incredibly hard. And in the beginning, you’re supposed to change that baby 10 times a day. And so that might mean 10 times a day you’re reminded that you’re not providing for your child.”
Cloth diapers are not an answer, she said.
“A lot of our families a don’t have washers or dryers. And you’re not allowed to wash them at a laundromat. And they’re also not cheap. And day care centers won’t use cloth diapers,” Cutler explained. “You need disposable diapers. So there’s all these little links in the chain. These families are just having a very, very hard time keeping their heads above water. It’s not about diapers really. It’s more.”
Diapers, certain non-food baby items and menstrual products are not covered by government programs, such as WIC or SNAP, Cutler said. She and Deaton have been lobbying for more government assistance for both baby and period products.
“We support children,” she said. “Our dream and hope aside from not having to do this work anymore because we don’t need to is that there would be a diaper pantry in every town.”
The organization is hoping that its Mother’s Day Drives and donations will help keep pace with the need.
In May, MHM hosts collection drives to celebrate mothers and mother-figures. Those interested in helping can purchase items through the nonprofit’s wish list, drop off new or gently used items at the warehouse or make monetary donations.
Cheryl Makin is an award-winning features and education reporter forMyCentralJersey.com, part of the USA Today Network. Contact: Cmakin@gannettnj.com or@CherylMakin. To get unlimited access, please subscribe or activate your digital account today.