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Tuesday, Sep 19, 2017
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Blessed Bottoms helps needy infants

LITHIA - On any given week, Brandon's group home for foster children runs through 400 to 600 diapers. With 25 babies staying in the five homes at A Kid's Place, the need is constant, said Mary Berg, the resource manager for the center that cares for sibling groups taken from their parents' homes. That same need is constant in homes across the greater Brandon area, where some parents struggle to pay for diapers that will keep their babies dry and comfortable throughout the day. Debi Rucker had never really thought about the enormity of the need until she had a chat with a neighbor whose sister had started a diaper bank in Detroit.
"There are no government assistance programs that provide diapers," said Rucker, who lives in FishHawk Trails and buys diapers by the case for her own son. "It's not part of the WIC program, and you can't buy them with food stamps. "People struggle to put food on the table, and the baby ends up in wet diapers all day, with infection or at least irritable," Rucker said. "A family already in stress is just put under more stress and prone to abuse." A few months later, in December, Rucker, a wife and the mother of two small boys, was stepping into the role of chief executive officer of the area's first nonprofit diaper bank, which she named Blessed Bottoms. A Kid's Place is among her partners, along with the Seeds of Hope food bank at Lamb of God Lutheran Church in Lithia and Life Care Brandon, a help center for pregnant women in crisis. "I found out that one in 20 moms have cleaned and reused disposable diapers," Rucker said. One in three mothers struggle to provide diapers for their babies. "It hit me over the head that children out there did not have such a basic necessity of life," Rucker said. Starting a diaper bank was her way of addressing a community problem without sacrificing her primary role as a mom, she said. "It is something we can do as a family. They can learn the importance of serving others and running a business." So far, the community has come through for the diaper bank, collecting diapers during church services and making monetary donations — enough so that A Kid's Place has been able to divert diaper funds to other needs for children, Berg said. Working in conjunction with the National Diaper Bank Network in North Haven, Conn., Rucker has teamed with KIDS, Kids In Distressed Situations, to make connections and inspire others to start diaper banks in their communities. "I'm focused on Lithia, Valrico and Brandon," but the ultimate goal of the national bank is to start at least one diaper bank in all 50 states, the stay-at-home mom said. The national organization also provides resources such as webinars on grant writing and inventory management. Rucker focuses on getting the diapers needed by her partners, then moving them out to the needy quickly. "I don't keep an inventory," she said. After diaper drives, Rucker stores the white baby bottom covers in her double garage until she can arrange to deliver them. She recently accepted delivery of 8,000 diapers from Huggies and within a day had delivered more than half of them to her partners. "What I'm hoping is to raise awareness in the community of the need. Most people don't know how critical it is." She also hopes to add partners in the greater Brandon area as the diaper bank grows. To date, Lamb of God, FishHawk Fellowship Church, the FishHawk Youth Baseball Traveling Team and FAST, FishHawk Area Service Team, from Bevis Elementary School have held diaper drives, and Rucker is seeking grants to buy more supplies. "This is all 100 percent volunteer, and 100 percent of any donations go directly go diapers," she said. She also gets diapers from Huggies, which has pledged to give out 20 million diapers over three years through its Every Little Bottom campaign. Huggies is a founding sponsor of the National Diaper Bank Network. To learn more or get a list of drop-off locations, visit www.blessedbottoms.org or call (813) 453-7610. Contact the National Diaper Bank Network in North Haven, CT, at (203) 821-7348 or visit www.diaperbanknetwork.org

yhammett@tampatrib.com (813) 259-7127

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