I went to this weird little warehouse in Chicago to interview a former baseball player. We talked about diapers.
There are a lot of questions I'd like to ask former Chicago Cubs catcher David Ross: What was it like hitting a home run in the decisive Game 7 of the 2016 World Series? Can you tell me about the times you got called on to pitch during the 2015 season? Or what's harder: spring training or "Dancing With the Stars"?
None of that came up when I was given the opportunity to interview him at Cradles to Crayons in Chicago's Logan Square neighborhood. Instead, we talked about a problem that Ross, like many Americans, didn't know about until recently: diaper need.
Ross at the Cradles to Crayons event in Chicago on April 5, 2018. Photo by Daniel Boczarski/Getty Images for Huggies.
1 in 3 families with newborns struggle to afford diapers, and it takes a toll on their mental and physical health.
Millions of low-income families simply don't have the money to pay for the diapers they need to keep their babies happy, healthy, and clean. Unfortunately, there aren't any government assistance programs to help them out either because food stamps can't be used to pay for diapers. That can make babies and parents sick.
"In research that we did with Yale, what was fascinating was that diaper need was more highly correlated with maternal stress than any material deficit," National Diaper Bank Network CEO Joanne Goldblum tells me at the event. "Not being able to meet your child's basic needs is incredibly stressful."
Joanne Goldblum of the National Diaper Bank Network at Cradles to Crayons in Chicago on April 5, 2018. Photo by Daniel Boczarski/Getty Images for Huggies.
At its core, the diaper need problem is about poverty, and while there are about 250 diaper banks in the U.S., they need help.
At Cradles to Crayons, Ross appeared alongside representatives from Walgreens and Huggies to donate 250,000 diapers and $10,000 to the National Diaper Bank Network. Walgreens and Huggies will donate up to 1.5 million diapers to the National Diaper Bank Network — one day's worth for every package of Huggies purchased in-store through April 29.
"It actually gave me a little bit of a sick feeling in my stomach, and I felt like I had to jump on the opportunity to be able to help out," Ross says, explaining his shock when approached by Huggies and Walgreens for the promotion.
Ross meeting with families at Cradles to Crayons in Chicago on April 5, 2018. Photo by Daniel Boczarski/Getty Images for Huggies.
In 2015, Ross found himself in a vulnerable state when his wife was rushed to the hospital for an emergency C-section.
For Ross, there is a personal component to the issue as well. In 2015, his wife, Hyla, gave birth to their daughter, Harper, two months premature. While both Hyla, a pediatric nurse by trade, and Harper are now perfectly healthy, the experience left Ross with a profound new appreciation for family as well as the kindness of others.
During those first few weeks, his Cubs teammates chipped in to send Ross and his family food and made check-in calls to the catcher. They helped take care of the little things that often go overlooked or can become mounting issues if ignored. It was a family-first approach to kindness, and Ross is paying it forward in this and his other charitable work. The families facing diaper needs are in a fragile place — something he knows a lot about.
Ross hitting a home run for the Cubs during the sixth inning of Game 7 of the 2016 World Series. Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images.
"My life was really good, and then all of a sudden, all that mattered to me was helping my child," he said, thinking back on that experience. "Perspective comes along really fast, so you give back when you can. And I was fortunate enough to be able to afford anything that would happen. That's not the case for 90% of people."
Luckily, you don't need to be a pro athlete to help fight diaper need. There's actually a lot you can do.
"A lot of people don't know this is an issue, and honestly that's part of the reason that I started doing this work," Goldblum says. "Because when we think about societal problems, we think about big things. We don't think about what it takes to get out of the house in the morning: diapers, deodorant, soap, shampoo. Nobody thinks about that stuff."
While reusable cloth diapers are a solution for some families, they're not an option for everyone, especially low-income families without access to a washing machine at home.
Volunteers from Walgreens and Huggies at Cradles to Crayons in Chicago. Photo by Daniel Boczarski/Getty Images for Huggies.
One of the most important things people can do is be vocal about this issue. Many people who are experiencing diaper needs may feel ashamed to speak out, making it that much more important for the rest of us to lend our voices to the cause. Social media is a great way to get the word out. Aside from that, people can host diaper drives, volunteer at their local diaper bank, or donate directly to the National Diaper Bank Network.
Together, we can help solve one of the bigger problems affecting our littlest people.