Starting a Cloth Diaper Bank with Meaghan Johnson
Meaghan Johnson joins us again to share her story of starting the Milwaukee Diaper Mission a diaper bank supporting families with cloth diapers, disposable diapers, and period products. She shares why and how she started a cloth diaper bank and resources for others who might be interested in making this happen in your community.
This is a special series for the Flats & Handwashing Challenges
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Cloth Diaper Podcast Show 69 Show Notes
diaper, milwaukee, cloth diaper, community, bank, nonprofit, cloth, cloth diapering, volunteer, period, parents, organization, products, people, support, resources, disposable, big, accessibility, reach
Meaghan Johnson, Executive Director, Bailey Bouwman
Bailey Bouwman 00:00
This is show 69 of the Cloth Diaper Podcast. This episode is with Meaghan Johnson, the executive director of Milwaukee Diaper Mission. This episode was already shared in the flats and hand washing group as a video and is now being uploaded as a podcast for the club.
Bailey Bouwman 00:58
This episode was originally recorded in early May. And as part of a series of episodes I want to do with diaper banks around the United States in the world to share their stories and we can maybe learn from them. I thought that’s something that we could do this year for the Flats Challenge was talk more about what are the resources are available. It’s not necessarily always about making cloth diapers seem affordable and accessible. But it’s also about making sure that we have the community support systems in place. Something that we’ve been talking about a lot on the show and with a wide array of guest is that there is this huge need for one to one community support. I can put out as many books as I want or as many courses as I want. But at the end of the day, having a mentor or having somebody in your community that you can reach out to and have a conversation about cloth diapering will continue to be the most impactful thing that we can do.
Meaghan Johnson, Executive Director 02:47
Meaghan Johnson, Executive Director 04:16
I participated in that last year in 2020 and was previously running a for profit business which was a cloth diaper rental service. And while I enjoyed that I didn’t enjoy it as much as I thought I would and slowly just kind of veered into the nonprofit world. I started because of the flats challenge I learned about diaper need for the first time in my life as privileged parent to never really had to worry about purchasing diapers myself. I just haven’t had a lot of conversations about diaper need and participating in the Flats Challenge and having those conversations in the cloth diapering community really opened my eyes to that
Meaghan Johnson, Executive Director 05:00
And I thought, you know, I’ve always enjoyed teaching cloth diaper classes, I’ve always thought that there should be more accessibility when it comes to cloth, especially for low-income families. So I thought, you know, maybe I could bring a cloth diaper lending program to the City of Milwaukee.
Meaghan Johnson, Executive Director 05:15
So I thought the first step would be to reach out to the local diaper bank to see if they would want if they had a cloth program, and if they didn’t, if they would want to start one. And then I could maybe volunteer my time to get that off the ground. And I discovered that Milwaukee did not have any diaper bank. How big is the city of Milwaukee? Um, gosh, you know, I don’t even know the exact population. But we’re a bigger city, compared to I mean, we’re the biggest city in the state of Wisconsin. And, you know, we’re like, I guess if you were to compare us to like New York or Chicago, we’re like more of a middle-sized city, but we’re what we call ourselves is a little big city.
Bailey Bouwman 05:53
So a population of almost 600,000 people. Okay, Metro population of 1.5 million, which this little Canadian says that’s more than my province. So big city, you’re, you’re large, you’re not peanuts,
Meaghan Johnson, Executive Director 06:11
right? Yeah, in Milwaukee is one of the poorest and most segregated cities in the country, as well. So we have those barriers, in addition to just being a large metropolis.
Bailey Bouwman 06:23
So we’re families, resourcing, accessing diapers, then through other sorts of nonprofits in the region, or the kind of paying and dry.
Meaghan Johnson, Executive Director 06:33
I think, a little bit of both.
Meaghan Johnson, Executive Director 06:34
So I found once I discovered that he didn’t have a diaper bank, and that and then I started doing research on diaper banks around, you know, in other cities, realizing that, you know, this sort of vital resource did not exist and needed to immediately, I also discovered that a lot of smaller nonprofits like food pantries, and social service agencies, mutual aid groups, were struggling to be able to provide diapers for families that were struggling to be able to afford diapers. So a lot of the organizations that we now work with now that were in operation, you know, before we came along, were, you know, taking some funding and going to their local Walmart and buying diapers off the shelves, which is very expensive. So an organization like ours, a basic needs bank, we have access to wholesale purchasing, we get a lot of in kind donations. So we’re able to put those products out into the community at a way lower cost than then those smaller organizations were doing so
Bailey Bouwman 07:31
Oh, that’s kind of interesting. And that, like spurs, so many little thoughts in my brain. I know I’ve chatted with you and with Katie and a lot of other people. And have you ever kind of thought about that position that you kind of offer? as well as knowing like in my local region, nonprofits are tapped out. Like at the end of the day, they don’t necessarily have the extra resources to apply for specific diaper grants or to find out how to wholesale diaper. So just gonna do it in a way that’s accessible and easy at that time, because the dozen other grants that are maybe more important or more prioritized to them based on their organization’s mission. Yes,
Meaghan Johnson, Executive Director 08:09
absolutely. Yeah. So it’s, it’s something that, you know, like I said, this, this sort of organization should have existed here in Milwaukee decades ago, really, and it just never did. And so one of my first steps was to reach out to the national diaper bank network for support. So they’re a national organization that supports diaper banks all across the country, they have a couple 100 members in all different states all over the country. And when I initially reached out to them, they were so excited to hear from me, because they were hoping somebody in Milwaukee would start a diaper program and just hadn’t yet so they were like, really excited that this area was now going to get the support that it needed, and that they were going to be able to kind of mentor and guide me as I as I went through the process of learning how to launch a nonprofit launching a nonprofit was a whole thing. National Diaper Bank Network for being that support for for organizations like ours.
Bailey Bouwman 09:07
Are they a good resource, then if anybody is watching and listening and thinking about finding and making this happen in their community? Because they don’t have something?
Meaghan Johnson, Executive Director 09:14
Yeah, absolutely. I mean, just emailing them and getting a feel, you know, I think the first step, if you want to start a program like this, make sure it doesn’t already exist, because we don’t want to duplicate any services and have, you know, overlapping organizations and the same service area because that’s just, you know, like, it’s just creating more work. And really, we should be, you know, focusing on those more rural areas or larger cities that don’t already have a diaper program or diaper bank.
Meaghan Johnson, Executive Director 09:41
But yeah, finding out if there are any local organizations that are already doing this work and then if there aren’t absolutely reach out to the National Diaper Bank Network, and especially if you want to focus on cloth diapering reach out to Jake’s network of hope, which is also here in the beautiful state of Wisconsin.
Bailey Bouwman 10:00
Meaghan Johnson, Executive Director 10:00
Yeah, yeah, they’re just about an hour and a half north of Milwaukee. I just visited them a couple of weeks ago, I drove up there and toured their warehouse, which is really fun and got to hang out with Katie and Stephanie. And they’re operating on a much larger scale than we are. So it’s fascinating to see their huge warehouse and all the work that they’re doing is so amazing. So if anybody’s interested in starting a cloth diaper program, in their local area, reaching out to Jake’s Diapers, you know, just because they’re here in Wisconsin, that doesn’t matter. They help organizations all over the country, and actually all over the world, with starting, you know, cloth diaper programs, or they, you know, they’re able to supply programs like ours with cloth diapering products. S o that’s it’s really amazing to have them
Bailey Bouwman 10:47
I soon have a half hour of Katies time next week, to chat with her and share some of the information that they have at Jakes Diapers. To help us out and kind of expand this I feel like I feel like I know so much because I chat with you. And I know you and I chat with Salem Cloth Project in my stories, then I’ll pop on to phone call with Maddie I was saying before the show at permanent diaper mission, and she is completely unaware of half of the resources that you’ve told me about. So there’s definitely a lot we can do to help awareness so we can come together as a stronger community, right? And I said that without making sure we’re not duplicating our resources, make sure we’re like we’re all sharing and connecting, collaborating.
Meaghan Johnson, Executive Director 11:30
Yeah, for sure. And that’s something that Katie from Jake’s and Kaylee from Salem cloth projects, and Kelly from Diaper Bank of the Ozarks and a handful of other Rachel from PDX Diaper Bank in Oregon, we’ve come together and formed a cloth diaper coalition.
Meaghan Johnson, Executive Director 11:47
So we’re still in the very beginning stages of this project. But we as diaper bank leaders, most of us have a disposable and a and a cloth, you know, side to our program. But you know, with a heavy focus on cloth, we are kind of banding together to try and figure out best practice for running a cloth program. How can we support individuals who want to start a program in their own area? How can we mentor them as they work through that process? And what are the tools that we can give them you know, as far as how to acquire, you know, specific funding for your program, how to develop an educational program for your, you know, like, how are you how are you teaching cloth classes, like what, what is what is best practice for educating folks on cloth diapering. So we’re working on trying to figure all of that out right now. And it’s been a really amazing experience because, you know, you have Salem Cloth Project with a business that has a nonprofit side that distributes cloth diapers into the community. Then you have, you know, more traditional diaper banks like Malachy diaper mission or like Diaper Bank of the Ozarks that do disposables and cloth, you have Minnesota cloth diaper bank, which they just do clock. So we’re all kind of different. And we’re all like, you know, we’ve only been in operation for one year, whereas some of these other banks have been running for five or 10 years. So we all have different levels of experience and different perspectives. And it’s really cool group and I’m excited.
Bailey Bouwman 13:15
And I have also grabbed Kaylee from Salem Cloth Project. Yeah. Yeah, I’ve grabbed her ear for next week as well, an excited we share a birthday. So I immediately feel like we’re going to be best friends. I hope she’s not watching this. I learned that last year because we both turned 30 on the same day, and we both had like big because it was a big deal. And I was like, whoa, hey, you. I need to know who you are. Yeah, so I’m excited to also chat with her cuz she’s doing some really cool work too. And yeah, when you get a chance to chat with Maddie, she runs her diaper bank through her diaper service. So she runs a diaper service that funds her diaper bag. So there’s so many different ways that people do it. She’s not the only one that I’ve heard that does it that way. I’ve met a couple other parents through the internet. But there’s so many different ways people try to serve their communities through being a social enterprise, or through just being like strictly a really big nonprofit. So you’re only have been in this for a year which feels crazy because you’ve had so much press and I feel like you’ve grown and you’re wearing a branded shirt, and you’ve got a branded warehouse and you’ve got a you got a fancy tool the other day. What was that thing? a lab palletjack? Yeah, yeah, you got a pallet jack like that feels like a really legit big kind of growing. What’s been your biggest challenge over the past year?
Meaghan Johnson, Executive Director 14:46
Oh, wow. There have been so many little challenges that kind of just are all one big challenge when they’re put together.
Meaghan Johnson, Executive Director 14:55
I think you know, funding is a huge challenge for a small grassroots organization that’s just getting started, how do we get, you know, we have a lot of community support where we have, you know, individuals donating 25 bucks, 50 bucks here or there, which is amazing. But when you start, you know, distributing 25,000 diapers a month, we’re on pace to distribute 250,000 diapers this year alone, there’s a lot of cost that goes into that shelving, you know, equipment, the space itself is really expensive. So, we’re trying right now to figure out how do we get support from local businesses? How do we get support via grants? How do we really fund this organization, so it can be sustainable and reliable for the long term?
Meaghan Johnson, Executive Director 15:42
So that’s really been the biggest challenge not coming from the nonprofit sector, I had to learn a lot about just like I said before, like how do you start a nonprofit? What are the what are the first steps? What, what do I need to be able to make this thing actually get off the ground? And so that, you know, starts with a board of directors, and then, you know, you have to acquire a space and you have to, you know, incorporate your business and you have to learn how to run a business, really, it’s a nonprofit is a business. And so it’s the biggest challenge has just been like balancing that, you know, what, what is this? What do we need to make this thing run and to continue to run for the long term,
Bailey Bouwman 16:22
So that reminds me of the one thing that I did want to talk to, which feels really weird, as I feel like I’m saying this, but talk to the cloth diaper community about this week is that I know that there are so many parents with so many different skill sets, that we don’t necessarily always need more people start in cloth diaper banks. But maybe if there’s a cloth, a parent who has time to volunteer that their full time job as a grant writer, that they volunteer with the diaper bank, or they volunteer with a nonprofit, to write a grant or if their skill set is accounting, right, like you volunteering and supporting the end of diaper need doesn’t always necessarily mean doing what you’re doing of running and starting and being on the ground and spending all day delivering diapers, sometimes it’s showing up in the ways our skill sets best.
Meaghan Johnson, Executive Director 17:07
Yep,absolutely. And we started our board of directors is very much a working board, we have an attorney as our secretary. So if we have any sort of, you know, legal stuff that we need to work through, she’s doing that for us, we have, you know, an accountant is our treasurer, we have someone who has a history, you know, who has a background in corporate social media on our board, we have, you know, someone who has a history and working in development and plans giving is on our board to help us with fundraising.
Meaghan Johnson, Executive Director 17:34
So, you know, finding those people in your community that have those skills that are looking for something and a lot, a lot of the parents or a lot of people on our board are parents who have left their career to be a stay at home parents for the time being. And so they have a little bit of extra time to give and volunteer and, you know, use those skills to benefit the organization. But aside from that, on the class side of things, we there are so many things that we have to offer parents who are cloth diapering parents that want to help, you know, when we get donations from the community. Well, that’s the first thing donating your old cloth diapers, people can donate those to us, and we can sanitize them and redistribute them to families in need. Families can, you know, volunteer to sanitize diapers for us, you know, packaged diapers for us. And then on the other side of things, we have volunteers who want to help teach cloth diaper classes. So you know, right now I’m teaching all the classes, but at some point, as my position becomes more complex, and as we grow, I’m going to need support and I’m going to need those cloth diaper parenting volunteers to step in, and like this person is going to teach the class this month or, you know, are part of our ongoing mentoring and support to the families who receive cloth diapers from our organization. So those parents who are like hey, I cloth diapers for five years, I’m totally cool with sharing my email and you know, having a family reach out to me if they have questions or need help with fit or washing or, you know, because we have these Facebook groups, and we have these, you know, this online community and that’s wonderful and can be really supportive. But having an individual that lives in your neighborhood that can actually like you can call up or email and say, hey, my diapers are leaking, what should I do that’s like so much more powerful and so much more supportive. So, so that’s another great way for for folks to volunteer to,
Bailey Bouwman 19:19
they can tell you exactly what I’m Walmart to find the product. We talked a little bit about that onlive and I as much as every time I look at creating more resources and more people that I talked to like nothing, you really can’t replace a lot of that one to one that is so needed. And it’s so needed on so many levels within cloth diapering like it’s needed on the sense that we need to parents need support. I need to be able to call and figure out what’s going on with our washer, they’re fit. They also just sometimes needed another human to talk to like actually talk to and feel like they’re being listened to. I love a good fit. a support group, but sometimes it can be so overwhelming or your posts will get missed. And then if you’re struggling with anxiety or postpartum and your post doesn’t get answered, man, that can be a hard spiral. But an email address to a local mom who will respond back definitely is so needed. And it helps to as a as a content creator who gets like severely burned out, it also helps the rest of us take the take the load off, like we literally you can’t answer every email, I can’t answer every email. But there’s so many there’s so many great wisdom, like everybody I talked to is so intelligent and wonderful, and they can offer that advice. And sometimes that advice is not necessarily advice, but just like,
Meaghan Johnson, Executive Director 20:47
yeah, and level with volunteers, you know, we are engaging our youth in our community. So I think you know, a lot of times we forget about, you know, teens or college students who may or may not necessarily be in that season of life where they’re parenting, and they have small children, so they don’t necessarily get diapers, but they are willing and able to assist in any way they can. A lot of them have, like service hours they have to do for graduation, a lot of them are in clubs that focus on service. So, for example, we have a local high school here who has a feminist Student Union, which was co founded by two amazing students. And they have over 150 members in their student union that is focused on feminism, but they also want to do activism in all all different, you know, sectors. And so they found our mission to be really inspiring. And I brought my minivan full of period products to their high school the other day, and they package 200 period kits for us. And they’re just like, so excited to be involved and learn about inclusivity and accessibility and sustainability. It’s really neat to see them working. And
Bailey Bouwman 22:01
I was pretty involved in a lot of things but like to imagine, and that could have saved me like five years off my life of research and development into Diaper need and period poverty, period poverty is a huge one. And that’s a lot of people. A lot of diaper banks do that as well on the side as well, right?
Meaghan Johnson, Executive Director 22:21
Yeah, yeah, a lot of diaper banks do have a period program. And, you know, I think we’re a little bit unique in the sense that we offer reusable period products. So we do kits with cloth pads, and menstrual cups, in addition to disposable kits, so that individuals have that dignity of choice and that option to be able to decide, you know, I want to try this, these reusable products and, and those folks deserve accessibility to those to those products. So that’s, you know, it adds another layer adds another step. And another thing that that we have to focus our energy on in a good way, but it’s it’s definitely a huge part of our game.
Bailey Bouwman 23:00
Because you got your disposable diapers and disposable period products, and then reusable period products, and then we’re usable diapers and processing all of those together. And how do you I don’t know what I was gonna say, I think I’ve been I like, I think we’ve really, we’ve touched on a lot of really great points that I really wanted to share with the community, they can find you on Instagram, for sure, at Milwaukee diaper mat mission, what’s and you’ve got a website, probably
Meaghan Johnson, Executive Director 23:33
Milwaukeediapermission.org. And we have a lot of really great information on our website about our cloth program, some educational stuff, just about around cloth and reusable menstrual products. And we’re also we just started a while it hasn’t started yet, actually. But by the time this is live, we will have a social media campaign going to raise awareness around period poverty. So it’s called the eye bleed campaign. So if anybody’s interested in having a discussion on social media about not only accessibility to sustainable, but also just menstrual equity, gender inclusivity, when it comes to menstruation, they can check out the I believe page on our website and participate by taking a selfie and posting. So that’s just another way for volunteers to get involved that may not even live in Milwaukee or be able to, you know, support us directly, but they can just you know, be involved in the work that we’re doing in that way. Yeah, so that that and we’ll keep that live on our website for a while. So if anybody you know is hearing this down the road, they’ll still have be able to access that and take a look at it.
Bailey Bouwman 24:45
Awesome. I love your selfie. Meaghan. I love that you’re an executive director now. Very fancy, right? fancy and legit. Is this okay, well, thank you for sharing about parody poverty Awareness Week. I’m I look forward to that, because one thing that I struggled with, as I stumbled on my words is gender inclusive or gender neutral language when talking about period of period poverty, and it’s mostly just because you’ve been groomed for 25 years on one set of terms, and you’re now sometimes you don’t even recognize it, but you’re trying so looking forward to learning more about that next week, then from people as we try to figure out how to do it better.
Meaghan Johnson, Executive Director 25:29
Everyone, everyone’s learning together, it’s definitely something that, you know, like you said, it’s been ingrained in us to say feminine hygiene. Well, first of all, not everyone who identifies as a female is getting a period. Right? Yeah, and also on the other side of like, feminine hygiene, hygiene, like periods are not unhygienic. So why are we even saying that word when associate, you know, it perpetuates that stigma? of you know, periods being gross or you know, not okay to talk about or not okay to think about. So. There’s, it’s a lot. It’s a lot to remember. It’s a lot to kind of reprogram your brain to think and say, but it’s important work.
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Bailey brings 5+ years of cloth diapering experience and conversation to the cloth diaper space. She's not just your every day mom blogger sharing her experience - Bailey is immersed in the cloth diaper community learning from other parents and growing as an individual. She wants to find the cloth diaper solution that truly works for you.
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The Cloth Diaper Podcast is a somewhat regular podcast sharing stories from cloth diaper parents, brands and retailers from around the world.
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