Diaper bank nonprofit founder reflects on decade of service in DC region

This is part of WTOP’s continuing coverage of people making a difference from our community authored by Stephanie Gaines-Bryant. Read more of that coverage.

A mother founded a D.C.-area nonprofit to give a helping hand to other caregivers throughout the area, providing diapers and other supplies and resources. Now, she’s stepping down after over a decade of service.

When Corinne Cannon had her first child in 2009, she and her partner were excited to have a baby. They had planned to have the child, but said they were also “ill-prepared to have a baby in terms of the emotional and physical toll that it took on us.”

Cannon described her infant as difficult and was blown away by how hard it was to care for a baby.

After her son grew out of the infant stage, Cannon began thinking about other mothers. She was lucky enough to have a partner who was in the relationship 100%, family in the area and financial resources; and yet, she struggled.

She wondered about what happens to people who don’t have these resources or support. Then, she began doing research and says she was angered by what she discovered.

Helping those who struggle with “diaper need”

“It started [the nonprofit] because I was really, really mad,” Cannon said. “I was really angry that women and children were not getting the resources that they need.”

Cannon, founder and director of the Greater DC Diaper Bank, said she started the organization in 2010 in her basement, one year after her son was born. And after 13 years of service, she will be stepping down later this month.

“I began this work to ensure that no mother or caregiver would feel alone,” she wrote in a statement. “We have created a network of caring for tens of thousands of families across our region. The next phase of this work means ensuring we are here to provide that care for many more years to come.”

In 2021, the organization served about 40,000 children in D.C., Maryland and Virginia, according to its website. They provide diapers, feminine hygiene products, incontinence supplies and baby formula to a series of social service agencies that distribute the supplies to families in need.

Cannon said she discovered that social service support for families in the U.S. is misunderstood and that one in three women struggle with “diaper need.”

“Diaper need is not having enough products to keep a child healthy and safe,” Cannon said.

During her research, she discovered that a lot of organizations didn’t have the staffing capacity to do the necessary work. Now, she works with a at least 75 social service organizations, many of them her partners.

Social service programs like Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and WIC (Women, Infants and Children) are supposed to be used to supplement a family’s nutritional needs. she said. But for many families, “it’s all they have.”

The pandemic’s impact

The pandemic put an extra strain on families — especially low-income ones.

Pre-pandemic, she said, “We were distributing 2 million diapers per year. Now, we distribute 11 million diapers a year. We could provide double that amount and we still would not be reaching everyone who needs our support.”

Though the World Health Organization says the coronavirus pandemic is no longer an emergency,  Cannon said many of the families the nonprofit serves will be impacted for years to come. She said they are plagued with medical debt, back rent, credit card debt and the impacts of inflation.

She said that the one positive thing to come out of the pandemic was that “people are more comfortable saying they need support. Some of the stigma around saying you need support disappeared.”

Those in need of support can contact the Greater DC Diaper Bank and get connected with an agency that is willing to help.

Stephanie Gaines-Bryant

Stephanie Gaines-Bryant is an Anchor and Reporter for WTOP. Over the past 20 years, Stephanie has worked in several markets, including Baltimore, Washington, Houston and Charleston, holding positions ranging from newscaster to morning show co-host.

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