By Shayna Mace | Photography by Hillary Schave
Catalyst: It’s defined as a “person or thing that precipitates an event.” For Megan Sollenberger, this catalyst was becoming a mother. It opened her eyes to the reality that public assistance benefits don’t cover diapering supplies — which are expensive — for low-income parents.
While millions of people who are mothers don’t found an organization based off of diaper need, that’s exactly what Sollenberger did — starting The Village Diaper Bank in 2018, a nonprofit that provides free diapers and wipes to families in need. Now, thousands of Dane, Green and Jefferson county families receive much-needed assistance because of Sollenberger’s efforts.
The former human resources administrator at Epic didn’t have experience starting or running a nonprofit, but she has the drive, moxie and grit to make it happen.
“I wasn’t terribly familiar with the issue of [diaper need] even though I had an almost three-year-old and an eight-month-old at the time. I didn’t know that government assistance programs don’t cover diapering supplies. But once I found out there wasn’t any assistance for these items and understood the root of the issue and how many negative effects it has … it just seemed like there had to be something I could do to help,” explains Sollenberger.
Sollenberger ticks off the adverse consequences of not having enough diapers in the home, such as diaper rash, UTIs and repeat doctor visits. But it goes beyond physical effects, she says.
“A lot of families end up having to miss work because of diaper need — daycare centers require you to provide your own supply of diapers. If you’re already struggling financially, that doesn’t do anything to help your situation. Diaper need is [also] strongly correlated with increased instances of mental health disorders in parents, because as you can imagine, hearing a baby scream and cry for potentially hours on end isn’t healthy for the baby, and it’s also distressing to parents and caregivers.”
The Village Diaper Bank has been Sollenberger’s full-time gig since 2020, and she runs it with her mom and a bank of volunteers. The nonprofit solicits diaper donations and distributes them to 16 partner sites throughout the region where caregivers can pick them up. In 2018, the nonprofit distributed around 3,000 diapers a month. Now, they’re up to 80,000 diapers a month, and have recently moved their operations into a 6,000-square-foot warehouse. In 2021, they kicked off an annual citywide diaper drive in partnership with NBC15 and in 2022, they hosted the nonprofit’s first fundraising gala.
In 2023, Sollenberger wants to expand their reach to Columbia and Rock counties, as well as add more partner distribution agencies. She also wants to give out one million diapers. And, she’s in talks with a large health care electronic medical records company to add in a screening question at child well-check appointments about diaper need. If a caregiver answers they’ve been struggling to buy diapers, they will receive referrals to The Village Diaper Bank’s partner agencies for ongoing support.
“We really believe that providing something as simple as a clean diaper can really change the trajectory of a family’s health from a lot of different perspectives — financially, emotionally and physically,” says Sollenberger.