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Couple aims to provide Baby Basics locally

September 19, 2006|by JANET HEIM

It was a short piece on National Public Radio that Charles Brown of Hagerstown just couldn't get out of his mind.

While driving in his car in July 2005, he heard an interview with Jean Ann Lynch as she described a nonprofit organization she founded called Baby Basics Inc.

Lynch started Baby Basics Inc. in the early 1990s in Ridgewood, N.J. She had become aware of how difficult it was for the working poor in her community to pay for some of the most basic necessities, like disposable diapers for their children.

Welfare reform had moved many parents back into the work force, but in service jobs that paid little more than minimum wage. As a result, many were forced to choose between buying gas and groceries or diapers.

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On average, a child will go through 4,000 diapers from birth until he or she is potty trained, according to the Baby Basics Web site.

Lynch found that these parents often stretched the use of disposable diapers by not changing them as often as they should. This resulted in diaper rash and other health-related issues for their children, leading to discomfort and crying.

Even the most patient parent could be pushed to the limit from the stress of a constantly crying baby. Ultimately, Lynch realized that providing diapers for these families would not only relieve a financial burden but also an emotional stress, one that could lead to child abuse.

That five-minute interview stuck with Brown, who shared the details of Baby Basics with his wife, Patricia. Aware of the need for such a service in Hagerstown, they checked out the organization's Web site.

"It was something that just grabs you and you think 'that makes sense,'" said Charles Brown, who runs Rest Haven Cemetery.

The cause hit home for the Browns, who at the time had two grandchildren in diapers. The couple then began exploring how they could start an affiliate in Hagerstown.

By the fall of 2005, Patricia Brown was in contact with Lynch, who has stringent criteria for becoming a Baby Basics affiliate, Patricia Brown said.

Brown said the first step was to fill out a questionnaire, providing information about how many families the new affiliate would serve and how it would be organized. The next step was to complete an application and put together a board of directors.

The Browns are working on the final step, which is to develop a mission statement, determine a distribution site, file for 501(c)3 status as a nonprofit organization and partner with a community organization that will refer qualifying families. To qualify, at least one parent or guardian in the household must be working and must produce a pay stub indicating his or her income. He or she cannot be receiving any other form of assistance.

Patricia Brown said Lynch wants assurances from those organizing new affiliates that there will be community support for the effort. Brown added that they are in the final step of becoming an affiliate, with Baby Basics of Greater Hagerstown as the pending name.

The Browns are in the process of visiting local service organizations in hopes of creating awareness and support for the program. Part of the appeal of this program for the Browns is that 100 percent of donations go toward providing diapers.

Sponsorship of one family with one child in diapers is about $400 annually, they said. Once a family is accepted into the program, they are guaranteed diapers until their child reaches age 3.

Patricia Brown said the board will soon decide where the distribution site will be. They would like it to be a place where volunteers and those receiving diapers can sit and talk.

"Diapers and kindness, a listening ear if they want to," Patricia Brown said.

She said the Ridgewood site is now affiliated with the American Red Cross and others have partnered with local WIC offices.

There are four distribution sites in New Jersey, as well as programs in South Boston and Hyde Park, Mass., Collier County, Fla. and Wilmington, Vt. Since the NPR piece ran, Lynch has received at least 13 calls from people seeking information about starting a Baby Basics affiliate.

Lynch advised the Browns to start small, with as few as five families, and serve those families well. She also told Patricia Brown that many other needs would become apparent as they get to know the families, but reminded her that the program's purpose is to provide diapers only.

In some programs, donated items are distributed and parent-education programs are offered prior to the diaper distribution. Distribution is on a set day every other week in an established time span, usually mid- to late afternoon for two hours.

The Browns are hoping to raise $2,500 to start, which would allow them to serve five families. They would like to be distributing diapers before Christmas, hoping to provide financial relief at a time of year when budgets are stretched more than usual.

Patricia Brown said she's looking for founding partners for financial support, and people who are interested in writing grants and those who are good at fundraising to get involved as board members.

For more information, call Charles or Patricia Brown at 301-733-0646 or go to www.babybasicsinc.org on the Web.

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