People bring all sorts of things to Homecoming events.
But Chelesa Presley is probably the only one bringing diapers.
Presley grew up in New Hope, graduated from Columbus High School in 1994 and moved to the Mississippi Delta in 1998. She still has a large extended family in Columbus. In fact, the county’s Concord Community Center on Shady Lane is built on land leased from her family.
On Saturday, Presley will return to her hometown to oversee the distribution of diapers through the Diaper Bank of the Delta, which annually distributes more than 375,000 diapers for an estimated 12,500 babies from low-income homes. Initially created in 2015 to provide diapers and other products in Coahoma County and later to also serve the Delta region, The Diaper Bank of the Delta (DBOD) is expanding its reach.
Saturday’s event in Columbus is just one of those outreach efforts, but it’s a special one.
“I’m a Columbus girl,” said Presley, co-founder and executive director of the DBOD. “That’s why we are calling it the Homecoming Community Diaper Distribution.”
From 10 a.m. until 1 p.m. at Concord Community Center, the DBOD will hold a drive-thru distribution that includes diapers, baby wipes, feminine hygiene products — items that cannot be purchased through SNAP or WIC. Those who are picking up items are asked to wear masks and stay in their cars. Concord Community Center is located at 52 Shady Lane.
All that is required to receive a package of diapers (30 to 50 in a pack depending on size) is the child’s name, age and mailing address, the latter so that DBOB can enroll a child in its program, which provides diapers on a monthly basis by mail.
As Mississippi’s only nationally-recognized diaper bank, DBOB is supported by private donations and the support of the National Diaper Bank Network. It was founded to fill a gap in the safety net programs provided for the poor.
“There is such a need for what we do,” Presley said. “There are a bunch of safety nets programs, but there is no safety net to cover the cost of these basic items. Babies need diapers. That’s what we do.”
Presley said the average family with a baby spends $80 to $100 monthly on diapers.
“And that’s what the estimate was before the pandemic,” Presley said. “As you know, everything has gone up in price, including diapers.”
The economic toll goes beyond the cost of diapers, too, Presley said.
“If you don’t have a supply of diapers, it’s difficult to find day care,” she said. “Most day cares require a certain amount of diapers every day. So if a mother doesn’t have diapers, she can’t take her child to day care, and they have to have day care if they’re going to have a job. When a family doesn’t have enough diapers, it has so many effects that people probably don’t even think about. When you don’t have enough diapers, you can’t change your baby like they need to be. A baby needs to be changed. Babies shouldn’t have diaper rash, but that’s what we see so often. It’s sad. It’s unhealthy.”
As the Diaper Bank of the Delta continues to expand its programs throughout the state, Presley said donations are critical.
“Almost everything we do comes from private donations,” she said. “We do get funding from a couple of small grants, but mostly we operate on donations, either from individual donations or diaper drives organized by church and civic groups.”
Presley said people can donate packs of diapers or make cash donations.
“Really, the cash donations go further,” she said. “We buy in bulk at wholesale prices, so we can buy a lot more diapers than what an individual might donate. But we take both and we’re happy to have both.”
Presley said Diaper Bank of the Delta is actively looking for partners throughout the state.
“You don’t have to start a diaper bank for us to be involved,” she said. “Any organizations that are providing services for poor families should get in touch with us and we’ll provide diapers for them for their programs.”
For more information, email DBOB at firstname.lastname@example.org, call 662-351-3844 or find the group on Facebook.
Slim Smith is a columnist and feature writer for The Dispatch. His email address is email@example.com.