For a Good Cause: CNY Diaper Bank’s Michela Hugo

Tell me about yourself.

I’m a former elementary school teacher. I became a stay-at-home-mom to my three children, Natalie, 15, Bradley, 12 and Genevieve, 5. My husband, Aaron Hugo, is a partner at Pinckney-Hugo Group. PHG was instrumental in getting us started — a closet at the office was actually the first location of CNY Diaper Bank, and they also helped us with everything from our logo and website to PR and graphic design. We wouldn’t be where we are now without their help.


What is a diaper bank?

Diaper banks are nonprofit organizations that focus on addressing diaper need by collecting, storing and distributing free diapers to struggling families. Diaper banks and diaper pantries obtain diapers through local diaper drives, in-kind donations, and by purchasing diapers directly with donated funds.


Why do we need a diaper bank in CNY?

Diaper need is an often-overlooked consequence of poverty. Nearly 50 percent of children in the city of Syracuse under the age of 5 live at or below the poverty line. Diapers are not covered by SNAP or WIC benefits and an adequate supply can cost $70 to $80 a month. The poorest families spend more per diaper because they cannot afford to buy larger boxes. When families run out, babies suffer, parents’ stress levels increase and there are far-reaching negative consequences.


How did this one get started?

Starting a diaper bank was something I had thought about doing for a long time. I was painfully aware of diaper need and I had researched and found there was no place for parents to go to in Syracuse when they needed diapers. In early 2016, I emailed a survey to all of the local human service agencies and 100 percent of the agencies who responded said they rarely had diapers to give to families in need. They were often turning them away or giving a few diapers in a random size. After that, there was no turning back. I recruited a few like-minded friends to form a board of directors and we got started in May 2016 with the first “Make a Mother’s Day” Diaper Drive. We collected about 23,000 diapers to get us going and in June we delivered 6,000 diapers to our first six partner agencies.


You only accept disposable diapers. Why? Can you describe the resources available to families who want to use cloth diapers? 

This is actually going to be changing very soon!  We are starting a new partnership with Jillian’s Drawers, a baby boutique in Ithaca, to provide cloth diapers for those families who want to give it a go. Jillian’s has a large supply of donated, used cloth diapers in good condition leftover from a cloth diaper loan program they used to operate. They are going to pass along those diapers to us and continue to serve as a donation site for cloth. We will be getting the word out to families through our partner agencies and will hold sessions 1 or 2 days a month where families can come into learn how to use them and receive a supply.

It’s important to know that cloth is not for everyone. Many of the families we serve are in transition and lack access to laundry. For those who don’t have washers and dryers in their home or apartment, getting to the Laundromat every other day to wash diapers can be unrealistic. And there are many daycare providers who won’t use cloth. All that said, we want to offer this option for those who want to try it — even if only used part-time — they can save money.


Tell me about your Make a Mother’s Day Diaper Drive.

This is how it all began for CNYDB, and we always felt that Mother’s Day was a really good time to build awareness of a problem that 1 in 3 moms are forced face — diaper need. Diaper need disproportionately affects moms and negatively impacts their mental health and well-being. In fact, mothers who experience diaper need are more likely to experience postpartum depression. The drive serves to not only educate the community about all of this but also to show people that something as simple as donating a pack of diapers can make a really positive impact for moms and for babies. We’ve set our goal high this year — 250,000 diapers! We actually encourage people to donate funds instead of diapers. We buy in bulk and we can purchase a lot more diapers in the sizes we need when people give dollars. All funds raised during the drive will be translated to how many diapers we’ll be able to purchase. As little as $5 can provide a supplement of 50 diapers to a family.


Aside from the obvious, what is your mission?

To ensure that all CNY babies have access to the basics they need to thrive and reach their full potential.


How can people support the diaper bank? 

Donating dollars is key to sustaining and growing this program. We have no staff — we are 100 percent volunteer-run so every dollar is used for distributing diapers. Because of our large distribution, we have been able to receive large truckload donations of Huggies diapers from Kimberly-Clark through our membership with National Diaper Bank Network. But we still have to pay the cost of freight on these donations, which is typically between $5,000 to $7,500 per shipment. We also always need to bulk order sizes 5 and 6 diapers from our supplier, regardless of how many we get donated. Those sizes are in high demand and we go through around 15,000 a month. The only way to keep growing is with funds to support these ongoing expenses. We have had a number of businesses donate money collected for office “Jeans Days.” Many groups who do diaper drives will also collect dollars, and that is hugely helpful. We are always encouraging people to organize diaper/fund drives at work, church, school and neighborhoods.


How else can we support mothers/parents in need?

We are a country of plenty, and yet far too many parents are struggling to provide basic needs for their babies and children. We cannot build a better future for our community if our youngest and most vulnerable are not able to reach their full potential. Systemic changes are necessary — we need to make it easier for parents to raise healthy, happy children. Quality childcare, decent paying jobs with time off to care for young children. No family should have to struggle to provide basic needs. In the meantime, providing a supplement of diapers can and does help families to provide comfort for their babies, gives them peace of mind and can help them toward becoming self-sustaining.


What agencies do you work with?

We distribute 70,000 diapers/month to our partner agencies. Many agencies are still on our waitlist. As financial support increases for the diaper bank, we will continue to add more partners.

  • ACR Health
  • All Saints
  • Brown Memorial
  • Catholic Charities
  • Chadwick
  • Circare
  • Crouse Hospital
  • DeWitt Food Pantry
  • Healthy Families
  • Hillside
  • Holy Family
  • Huntington Family Center
  • Interfaith Works
  • Liberty POST
  • PEACE Inc.-Westside Family Resource Center
  • Rescue Mission Outreach
  • Salvation Army-TAPC
  • Samaritan Center
  • SCC
  • SNCC
  • TSA-Emergency Services
  • Upstate Pediatric Clinic
  • UUMC
  • Vera House