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Hill District nonprofit fills basic need for impoverished families

| Saturday, Sept. 26, 2015, 9:00 p.m.
The Rev. Phillip Battle poses with his wife, Cathy, left, and Arlene Harris at the New Light Temple Baptist Church in the Hill District on Friday, Sept. 25, 2015, with an SUV full of diapers. The Battles founded the Western Pennsylvania Diaper Bank, and Harris is a devoted volunteer.
Justin Merriman | Trib Total Media
The Rev. Phillip Battle poses with his wife, Cathy, left, and Arlene Harris at the New Light Temple Baptist Church in the Hill District on Friday, Sept. 25, 2015, with an SUV full of diapers. The Battles founded the Western Pennsylvania Diaper Bank, and Harris is a devoted volunteer.

At times, Cathy Battle has jammed as many as 50,000 diapers into a room at the New Life Temple Baptist Church in the Hill District.

“They don't stay around for long, though. They're out of here quickly,” said Battle, who with her husband, Phillip, New Life's pastor, three years ago founded the Western Pennsylvania Diaper Bank, a volunteer effort with an annual budget of about $30,000.

The diaper bank, one of more than 200 across the nation, addresses a widespread problem — the high cost of diapers for needy families — that many people don't know about.

“It is a silent crisis,” said Battle, 54, of Monroeville.

Based on Census figures, families living in poverty in seven Western Pennsylvania counties need 140,000 diapers a day, 77,000 each day in Allegheny County, Battle said.

That's far more than the 3,000 to 5,000 the diaper bank gives out for free each week through 30 agencies.

Diapers can cost as much as $100 per month per child, Battle said. Unlike basic items, diapers are not covered by government assistance.

Nationally, 5.3 million children in the United States 3 or younger live in poor or low-income households, according to the Census Bureau. One in three American families says they need more diapers than they can afford, according to the National Diaper Bank Network.

“Most people believe diapers are something you get through food stamps, or some other program. They are not. It's a problem that continues the cycle of poverty and need,” said Diane Wuycheck, a Downtown marketing consultant who volunteers her services for the regional diaper bank.

“Once you hear Cathy talk about the problem and what she is doing, it's hard to say no to her,” Wuycheck said.

Not having enough money for diapers can lead to other problems and often forces families to choose between rent and food or diapers, Battle said.

Most day care centers and preschools will not admit babies or toddlers without an adequate supply of diapers.

“Some of the people who have trouble buying diapers are the working poor. Others are on assistance. Somebody that you know is probably affected by this,” Battle said.

Andrea Criscella of Ross, a stay-at-home mother, is one.

“Nothing babies need is ever cheap — formula, food or diapers,” she said.

Criscella has received diapers for her daughter, Mikella, 1, from Family Care Connections at Children's Hospital in Lawrenceville, where she is a client.

Jewish Children's & Family Services uses diapers from the diaper bank to help 75 refugee families from Bhutan, Burma, Iraq, Congo, Syria and Afghanistan.

“They give us what they can. It's a great help to people. Refugees had to pay for diapers in the past,” JCFS refugee coordinator Meg Pinney said.

Battle's husband had the idea of a diaper bank while he was pastor of a church in Toledo, Ohio.

“I talked to caretakers, single mothers and grandmothers,” he said. “They said paying for diapers was a big problem. I was shocked. They are not in food banks. Government and other agencies don't give them out. I wanted to do something about it.”

Rick Wills is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7944 or rwills@tribweb.com.

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