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Gabriel House Project: On the front lines of Diaper Need  

Did you know that one in three households struggle with diaper need? That three out of five parents struggling with diaper need miss work or school for lacking enough diapers required for childcare? Or that diapers are a basic need for babies, as important as food or housing? That lack of diapers is a strong cause of depression for a new mother, even more than lacking sufficient food for her family? Or that some families desperately attempt to re-use diapers, causing infections and other health problems?  Personally, these facts were shocking when I first learned them; and I have found them all to be true in the faces and stories of the families that we serve at the Gabriel Houses.

Most of the families we serve are immigrants and refugees. Some are homeless. Some are middle-class but living paycheck to paycheck due to high costs of living. Most are families with both parents involved; some are single parents, some are grandparents raising their grandchildren. In particular, we see many large families, who need diapers for multiple babies at once. Surprisingly, there is no government assistance resource available for diapers. Cloth diapers have become less of an option in recent years, as both apartment complexes and laundromats have banned washing them in their machines.  That is where organizations like ours are critical.

The Gabriel House Project is a ministry of Catholic Charities that provides diapers and other baby supplies to expectant mothers and families of young children. We also provide family education programming at 13 locations across the Archdiocese of Denver. Most of our sites are in the Denver metro area, though we also serve on the Western Slope, Eastern Plains, and up north in Ft. Collins. Uniquely approachable, we don’t require IDs or other documents, which makes us accessible to undocumented populations. We try to care for those who come seeking assistance in a relational way, doing a personalized intake, assessing broader needs beyond what we can offer, and facilitating an encounter between volunteers and clients. This changes lives on both sides of the interaction.

A special aspect of the program, that we value highly, is that we are housed in parishes, and it is a blessing to be there. Prior to coming to Catholic Charities, I was in parish/diocesan ministry for 8 years, and something that struck me was that oftentimes a person in need calls a parish before anything else. When I answered the phones, I frequently fielded calls requesting assistance and realized two things — one that those in need are present among us, right in our pews, and two, that, despite the negative publicity the Catholic Church often receives, it seems we are still the speed-dial for emergency help, even for those not involved in a church!  What attracted me to Gabriel House was the fact that this ministry forms a bridge between the parishes, who are on the front lines, and Catholic Charities’ network of resources, which we call our “continuum of care.” It is a blessing to be there; we find the pastors and their communities very supportive to our outreach. At times, where the family expresses an interest, we have been able to assist with integrating them into the faith community that the parish offers. We are grateful to be able to mutually enrich each other’s mission.

That mission is very broad! We serve 14,000 families per year and have distributed 350,000 diapers annually. With increasing need across communities, we expect those number to increase significantly over the next couple years.  All of this activity is donation-dependent; and so, therefore, I’d like to conclude with a call to action enlisting your help! Sept. 21 – 27 is National Diaper Need Awareness Week, and we kick off our fall diaper drives during that time through mid-November.  To learn more about how you can help the Gabriel Houses, and our other Catholic Charities ministries that provide diapers, please go to ccdenver.org/diaper-drive.

Article updated September 2020. Kalynn Webster is the Director of the Gabriel House Project ministry of Catholic Charities of Denver. If you would like to learn more about the program, or participate in the Fall Diaper Drive, please email kwebster@ccdenver.org or call 720-799-9307

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