Three Columbia woman are collecting diapers this morning to give to families who can't afford them.
The diaper drive, 9 a.m. to noon at Heathwood Park, grew out of an ad campaign by BlueChoice Medicaid proclaiming "one diaper a day isn't enough."
Since public assistance programs don't cover diapers, struggling families often are forced to ration them, according to service agencies.
"I just couldn't imagine having to leave a child in a dirty diaper," said organizer Amanda Payne, 29, and the mother of a 20-month-old boy. "That really broke my heart."
About a month ago, Payne, Lynn Cooper and Caroline Milliken joined in on a Facebook conversation about the issue, soon after each had seen billboards put up by BlueChoice.
They knew each other - they all grew up in Columbia and are about the same age - but they really connected over the realization that mothers like them needed help with diapers.
Cooper described herself as being "distraught and enlightened."
The three met for lunch, their babies in tow, and decided that each of them should contact 10 friends to join in a collection drive.
In the end, 39 women signed on to spread the word.
All told, they're hoping to donate 5,000 diapers to Harvest Hope Food Bank, which will make them available to clients within a week or so.
Maggie Knowles, Harvest Hope's director of the emergency food pantry, said diapers are so rarely donated that the packages have to be opened and the diapers doled out.
Sandy Nieves, the manager of West Columbia's emergency food pantry, said: "There's a huge need. ... If they have children, that's the first thing they ask for."
Disposable diapers are expensive and are not covered by traditional public assistance programs like food stamps or Women, Infants and Children.
"It's virtually impossible for moms to get their basic needs covered" with public assistance in South Carolina, said Linda Martin, with the S.C. Department of Social Services.
The cheapest, infant-sized diapers at the Garners Ferry Road Wal-Mart on Friday were $5.88 for a package of 36.
Knowles, at Harvest Hope, said families figure out how many diapers they can afford and make them last - whether it's three a day, two a day, or even one.
"I see it every day in our food pantries," she said. "They're dirty. They're overflowing. They're leaking."
Babies can get rashes and infections from dirty diapers. And miserable babies - who express themselves by crying - could be more likely to be victims of abuse as well, said Kevin Campbell, director of field operations for BlueChoice Medicaid.
"I saw one news clip of a woman in Greenville saying how she would wash disposable diapers and reuse them. She said, 'I know I shouldn't be doing this, but I just can't afford them,'" Campbell said.
"People are doing their best."
Diaper drives have started popping up across the country, organized by churches, women's groups and others.
Since the BlueCross campaign began Sept. 1, Campbell said, three local churches have sponsored diaper drives.
But Cooper, Payne and Milliken are the first individuals to rally. "This is really what's going to make this successful, is the grassroots, community effort."
Before she became a mother two years ago, Cooper taught at Heathwood Hall Episcopal School. Students there kicked off the drive by collecting nearly 2,000 diapers already, Cooper said.
She said the need really hit home for her when she was up in the middle of the night, rocking her baby back to sleep.
She was wondering then if there was another woman across town rocking a baby who couldn't be comforted.
Milliken said the diaper drive could expand to several times a year.
"Once we see the response," she said, "hopefully we'll see that we can actually make a difference."