DeeJay Mizzell, a young mother of four, says she hasn't used her dining room table for months.
Her children, ranging in age from 2 to 8 years old, have become accustomed to eating in the kitchen in their Signal Mountain home because the dining room is packed floor to ceiling with diapers, she said.
Mizzell, a former jewelry-store manager turned stay-at-home mom, has spent much of her spare time in the last year organizing a charity for families who can't afford diapers.
Interestingly, most government poverty programs, such as WIC (a nutrition program for women with children) and food stamps, do not cover disposable diapers. Many poor and displaced people don't have the means to clean and sanitize cloth diapers properly, Mizzell said.
Experts say nearly one in three families with small children in America may have trouble affording diapers. As a result, some families try to reuse disposable diapers, a practice that can cause painful diaper rash and infections in children.
Mizzell and a small army of other moms -- well, 10 -- raise money to buy diapers that they dispense in stacks of 20 stuffed in plastic Walmart shopping bags to people who are down on their luck or chronically poor.
The charity, called Diaper Duty, now includes volunteers in Hamilton, Rhea, Bradley, Sequatchie and Marion counties in Tennessee and Walker, Catoosa and Dade counties in Georgia. Referals come from social-service agencies such as the Partnership for Families, Children and Adults in Chattanooga.
Diaper Duty's mission statement is, appropriately: "Keeping babies healthy one butt at a time."
Diaper Duty will open an office on Ashland Terrace in Chattanooga later this week. It has become part of the National Diaper Bank, an effort funded by the makers of Huggies diapers, which has pledged to donate 20 million diapers a year to the cause nationally.
Mizzell said she got the idea for a diaper charity here in April 2011 when tornadoes raked the Tennessee Valley, killing scores in the area and leaving hundreds homeless. While relief agencies collected fresh water and clothes, she realized that for parents of young children, diapers are as urgently needed as food and water.
"I couldn't see people who lost everything waiting in line for two hours (at relief centers) to get diapers," she said.
When another, less lethal, round of twisters hit the Chattanooga area in March of this year, Mizzell was ready to mobilize. Through word of mouth and a Facebook page, she was able to supply diapers to many who were hit by the storm.
Soon, she had assembled a core group of volunteers who all agreed there was a need for a year-round diaper bank.
When the chance to partner with the new Huggies Diaper Bank Network came along, Diaper Duty was a perfect fit. There are about 150 such banks operating nationally now.
"It's an everyday need, seven days a week," said Mizzell, executive director of Diaper Duty.
Brittany Defur, a Diaper Duty volunteer based in Sequatchie County, said, "I think we sometimes take for granted that we can walk into a store and buy whatever we need, but everybody is not so lucky."
To donate cash or diapers to Diaper Duty call 423-468-0772 or mail a check to Diaper Duty of Chattanooga, 739 Ashland Terrace, Suite 108, Chattanooga, TN 37415.
For more information, see www.facebook.com/diaperdutychattanooga.
Mark Kennedy is a Times Free Press columnist and editor. He writes the "LIfe Stories" human interest column for the City section and the "Family Life" column for the Life section. He also writes an automotive column, “Test Drive,” for the Business section. For 13 years, Kennedy was features editor of the newspaper, and before that he was the newspaper’s first Sunday editor. The Times Free Press Life section won the state press award for ...