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Program nurtures Washington County's babies

April 21, 2008|By JANET HEIM

HAGERSTOWN - Anniversaries are worth celebrating and this one is no exception.

April 3 marked one year since Baby Basics of Greater Hagerstown Inc. began distributing diapers to families in Washington County.

"We're serving 21 babies right now, so it has grown," said Pat Brown of the diaper distribution program she and her husband, Charles Brown, founded.

From April 3 through December, Baby Basics of Greater Hagerstown gave out more than 22,000 diapers with a total value of $5,000, Charles Brown said.

The program was started in Ridgewood, N.J., in 1992. After hearing the story of Baby Basics on National Public Radio, Charles Brown felt compelled to start an affiliate in the Hagerstown area.

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With the support of his wife and a network of friends, they began visiting local service clubs in search of funding. Antietam Exchange Club was a founding partner.

Locally, there are seven board members and about six regular volunteers.

The program is designed to help the working poor - parents who work and don't receive government assistance - who live in the 21740 or 21742 ZIP codes. Many are referred by a partnering health or social service agency, often the Washington County Health Department.

The hope is to one day have enough money to expand beyond those two ZIP codes.

Baby Basics provides diapers to qualifying children until their third birthdays. As gas and utility costs rise, the $400 average annual retail cost of diapers for one baby can become prohibitive for families living on the economic edge.

"We are really holding our breath as the economy slows," Pat Brown said.

The goal of the program is to reduce child abuse while providing an emotional support and referral system for Baby Basics families. Diaper rash from infrequent diaper changes can lead to crying, which can put babies at greater risk for child abuse.

Girls Inc. of Washington County has offered space in its building as a distribution site and some short-term storage space for diapers. Deb Ebersole, treasurer for Baby Basics of Greater Hagerstown, shops for diapers twice a month, usually the day before distribution on the first and third Tuesdays of the month.

Ebersole said cash contributions are preferable to donations of diapers.

"Right now, we're committed to more babies than we have money for. It depends on support from the community to keep this going," Charles Brown said.

Charles Brown said 100 percent of contributions go to diapers.

With each distribution, the bonds between volunteers and Baby Basics families grows. Ebersole greets children by name and helps carry diapers to the car or reads a book to an older sibling who looks forward to seeing "Miss Deb."

"There is always going to be fundraising and needing to get the word out," Pat Brown said.

The public can help with financial and volunteer support. Checks can be made payable to Baby Basics of Greater Hagerstown Inc. and sent to 1601 Pennsylvania Ave., Hagerstown, MD 21742.

For more information, call 240-217-8182 or go to the national Web site at www.babybasicsnational.org.

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