Diaper bank founders find success in letting go Opinion by Richard Ducote

Reprinted from the Arizona Daily Star, September 11, 2005                   

Business owners often say the sure sign of success is leaving the firm in the hands of others and moving on.

By that measure, the Southern Arizona Community Diaper Bank is a barn burner.

Founders Hildy Gottlieb and Dimitri Petropolis are leaving their creation behind and will quit the nonprofit’s board this week.

Their own consulting business was just a baby when they brainstormed a little diaper drive in 1994 as a “give back to the community” effort.

That first campaign collected 20,000 diapers for two nonprofit agencies, but the genie was loose. The ad hoc holiday diaper drive quickly grew into a year-round effort to supply vital assistance for people trying to build a better life. The nation’s first diaper bank was formed.

The business office of ReSolve Inc./Help 4 NonProfits & Tribes, the consulting firm run by Gott-lieb and Petropolis, began to look like the diaper aisle at Wal-Mart. Stacks of Huggies and Pampers towered over desks and file cabinets. Tractor trailers would periodically load up with diapers collected at the offices on Broadway near Swan.

A less determined pair might have given up. But the little diaper bank was determined to grow and thrive, much like a robust toddler. In 2000, the drive became the Diaper Bank.

Now, it stands on its own as a vital stitch in Tucson’s social services fabric, plugged into 70 nonprofit groups.

It’s not really about diapers. It’s about helping people merge into the mainstream.

“We know if someone needs diapers they have other basic needs, so we try to address all the issues after we get past the crisis stage,” says Cheryl Smith, executive director since March 2004. “We want to help them become self-sufficient.”

Diapers are an economic necessity for working families. Most day-care centers will not take children without disposable diapers, and no welfare program provides them. Diapers can cost $100 a month or more, a prohibitive cost for people at or near the poverty line.

Thus, the diapers and the day care help a working family overcome poverty.

Establishing the diaper bank and watching it evolve demonstrates Tucson’s compassion, says Gottlieb. “We live in an incredibly charitable, generous community,” she adds.

She and Petropolis are letting go now, in part because that’s how nonprofits should progress. “We don’t know everything. It needs to grow beyond us.”

It’s like raising a child, she observes. “I want my kid to grow up, be independent and leave home.” The diaper bank “has been a wonderful child to raise. That feels very good.”

Tucson, she says, is a place where people help others in need because they know “it could happen to me.” This is clearly illustrated by Hurricane Katrina, a disaster so vast some of its survivors are living here.

That has triggered an emergency appeal for donations of adult briefs and larger-size diapers. Donations can be dropped off at all UPS Stores, at the ReSolve office, 4433 E. Broadway, or the Diaper Bank at 3820 E. Bellevue St. (please call first, 325-1400).

Last year, 27,000 needy infants, children, elderly and disabled received diapers. Demand now stands at 1.5 million diapers a year. The Diaper Bank collects about half that and is pushing hard to increase its donations. Trying to meet this need is a measure of Tucson’s character. It reflects well on the people who live here.

A community that helps its neediest is a better city in which to live.

● Contact Richard Ducote at 573-4178 or rducote@azstarnet.com.

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