FIRST 5 offers scarce baby supplies in South Bay amid pandemic
First 5 workers prepare boxes of diapers to give to local families Photo courtesy of First 5.

    Before COVID-19, local families were struggling and FIRST 5 was busy investing in programs to aid the development of Santa Clara County kids in underserved neighborhoods — a big task that has only gotten bigger in recent weeks.

    Now the group has undertaken an additional mission: help those families get the “basics” while some supplies run low at local stores and transportation options remain limited due to the region’s restrictive shelter in place order.

    With the added stress on families from the coronavirus, FIRST 5 marshaled its resources to provide diapers, wipes, formula, and calming and activity kits to families in need. They also provide families with the Santa Clara County Resource Guide, which includes emergency, educational, family and financial contact information.

    FIRST 5 Santa Clara County supports the healthy development of children from prenatal through age five. Through its Strengthening Families Initiative, which educates families on child development, FIRST 5 established 27 Family Resource Centers throughout the county.

    “Access is really huge for vulnerable families, especially in the environment we’re in now,” Jolene Smith, CEO at FIRST 5, said. “If you’re a mom with three kids and little to no transportation, how are you going to get to that store or stand in that line early enough in the morning?”

    Diapers and baby wipes, which can cost as much as $100 a month, are often financial burdens for low-income parents and caregivers. More than 40,000 Californians sought treatment at public hospitals in 2017 for symptoms directly tied to diaper need, according to SupplyBank.Org.

    In addition, costly formula, ringing in between $820 and $2,920 during a baby’s first year, is sometimes hard for low-income families to come by. Knowing that families served by FIRST 5 were showing up at their neighborhood schools to pick up breakfast and lunch boxes, the organization decided to make those spots distribution points.

    Cars line up to receive supplies at Cesar Chavez Elementary School. Image courtesy of First 5 Santa Clara County

    Through its partnerships with school districts, SupplyBank.Org and Family Resource Centers, FIRST 5 has provided 7,500 families with diapers and baby wipes in a month. The group added formula this week and will continue to provide these essential supplies through May.

    “We already had networks in place,” Smith said. “We knew we had to work quickly to mobilize those networks to meet the needs of families.”

    Food banks don’t provide diapers, formula and wipes, and neither do school districts. To make matters worse, many of the people FIRST 5 serves don’t have a car and have to walk to the nearest store to get food and supplies. FIRST 5 also heard from parents who had recently been laid off due to the COVID-19 crisis and were concerned about putting food on the table.

    “People who were working and barely making it yesterday, who aren’t working now…they’re in a whole new world trying to make ends meet,” Patricia Gardner, a consultant for FIRST 5, said. “It’s a very stressful time, especially if you have young kids. They’re not in school or playing with their friends; it adds to the stress… and then they don’t know if they’ll have a diaper.”

    Providing formula, diapers and wipes and other supplies to 7,500 families in the county costs more than $500,000 a month, according to FIRST 5.

    To finance the emergency distribution, FIRST 5 used funding from the city of San Jose emergency operations center and Federal Emergency Management Agency. The organization also depends on donors, foundations and philanthropy for funding.

    FIRST 5 also serves people living in transitional housing, incarcerated parents and those transitioning back into the community. On Tuesday, it provided about 90 families with essential supplies in the parking lot of the Family Justice Courthouse.

    “Equity and access are the two biggest drivers for all that we do,” Smith said. “It doesn’t matter where they come from, what their status is, if they’re a homeless family or in transition. Everyone has access to what we’re supplying in our supply train — everyone.”

    To receive a diaper kit and formula, register with the Family Resource Center on the organization’s website.

    First 5 purchases diaper kits at below wholesale prices and distributes free of cost to low income families. A donation of $17.50 will buy a kit of 80 to100 diapers and 200 diaper wipes: enough for one child per month. Those who want to help can donate to SupplyBank.Org and earmark the money for First 5’s Diaper Kit Program.

    Contact Lorraine Gabbert at [email protected]

    Editor’s note: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated the cost to First 5 to provide 7,500 families with supplies. The correct amount is more than $500,000 monthly.

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