In the operations center of Westside Baby about a dozen volunteers spend their morning sorting donations of clothes, toys and other baby gear. Eventually handpicked items will be bagged for a child in need. Some of the outgoing bags are called a layette, a collection of gear and clothing for a newborn in a plastic trash bag.
“Often this is the only thing they get. This is their baby shower,” Westside Baby Executive Director Nancy Woodland said. “All the donations will go out through social services agencies.”
The organization is on track to help up to 35,000 children this year. That’s up from serving 31,326 children in 2015.
“Need has increased in this area. I think we’ve all noticed that just looking at poverty statistics and things. Homelessness has increased,” she shared. “There are some things that aren’t working. The gap is getting wider.”
Westside Baby is growing and trying to reach more clients, setting up donations centers in more neighborhoods and serving other parts of the city. But at the same time, homelessness is growing rapidly around King County, including among families with children and infants. Organizations that serve these families have seen an increase in demand, they are also short on resources for the items that babies and their caregivers need: diapers, cribs, car seats, strollers and formula.
Woodland estimated that the organization, through its own efforts to expand and the increased demand, has grown by 500 percent. But that doesn’t mean WestSide Baby is able to give people everything they need.
Even with a steady stream of donations coming in to Westside Baby, “we still have a lot of things we don’t fill one hundred percent of the orders for,” Woodland said.
Last year the organization filled only 47 percent of car seat orders, 40 percent of crib orders, 30 percent of stroller orders, and 21 percent of high chair orders.
“A stroller might feel like a fluff item or an extra, but parents can’t walk their kids to school, they can’t get to the grocery store. The communities we’re serving, most of them don’t have the big box store or grocery store right there. Being able to get out the house with a stroller is critical,” Woodland said. “We always need more car seats donated.”
Westside Baby accepts car seats that are up to six years old. Used car seats undergo a rigorous safety check before they’re given to a family.
Diapers are also a high priority.
“People donating diapers is a critical component of our success,” Woodland said. “Any diaper we get donated here we don’t have to purchase.”
The organization is experiencing a critical need for larger diapers, particularly size six, large enough for a kid up to 35 pounds. According to the organization, a month’s supply can cost $100 per child. Because diapers are not covered by government assistance programs, desperate parents will resort to using less desirable options for their children: “Homeless families that are using newspaper to diaper their babies. Even families with homes are doing that,” Woodland said. This method can put the baby at risk for health issues.
To help increase diaper donations, Westside Baby’s annual Stuff a Bus diaper campaign is underway. It lasts through the end of the July. The organization is collecting donations at its White Center or Central District offices. Open packages of diapers will also be accepted.
Even with a large donation from Huggies each year coupled with community donations, the diaper deficit in King County looms for many struggling families. Last year, Westside Baby distributed more than 1.2 million free diapers, but Woodland said it would take 22 million diapers in a year to reach all children living below the poverty level. Other donations they need include pajamas, underwear, pants, jackets and socks. Specifically in the larger sizes, up to a 12. Westside Baby also needs wipes, baby shampoo and cream.
At Northwest Harvest, there’s always a need for baby products.
“Diapers, infant formula, and baby food are all very expensive, so we generally rely entirely on donations,” said Jesse Swingle, spokesperson for Northwest Harvest.
“As donations in those areas have slipped over the past year or so, we’ve been forced to purchase some baby formula to make up for the decline.”
Linda Mitchell, spokesperson for shelter and day center provider Mary’s Place, said while they haven’t experienced a dramatic spike in demand, they have seen a steady increase of families needing shelter and other services.
“Now that school is out there will be a huge increase in the demand for food and snacks,” Mitchell added.
“People believe poverty affects others,” Woodland shared. “You have people who hit hard times. Medical expenses come up. They’ve donated to food banks and suddenly they have to go get food.”The issue hit home for Woodland during her early years with the agency.
“The first car seat I delivered was four blocks from my house in West Seattle,” she said.
Because of an addiction issue, the child’s grandmother was the sole caretaker. Woodland said the agency’s clients include women fleeing domestic violence, immigrant families and unsheltered people.
Westside Baby plays an important role in King County. They’re the “only social service agency in West King County area that collects, inspects and distributes free diapers, clothing, cribs and safety gear for babies and children.” They work with 127 partner agencies.
“We’re enabling the experts to get in and do that deep work. Helping them focus on what they’re good at,” Woodland said. “We’re offering the tools and material things to help prevent those bad things from happening later.”