(The Center Square) – The COVID-19 pandemic has magnified the national diaper shortage in North Carolina, according to diaper banks.

The National Diaper Bank Network has reported a diaper shortage is affecting about 33% of American households. Since the COVID-19 pandemic hit, requests for diapers in North Carolina have increased by 400%, said Michelle Old, founder and executive director of the Diaper Bank of North Carolina.

One in three families in the Triangle area experiences diaper need, Old said. The NDBN reported families spend an average of $80 a month on diapers, while 25% of North Carolina's 361,132 children under age 3 live with families earning less than 100% of the federal poverty level.

“Children in low-income families are at greatest risk of suffering the effects of diaper need because many families can't afford diapers,” the NDBN said. “Current public support programs help some, but young children have additional needs necessary to build a strong foundation for healthy growth and to reach their full potential."

Diapers account for 14% to 16% of a low-income family's monthly budget, according to network data. Old said government assistance programs such as WIC and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program do not cover personal hygiene products. Most (78%) of the families who use the diaper bank work multiple jobs but still cannot afford basic hygiene items, Old said.

NDBN data showed 64% of mothers with infants are part of North Carolina's workforce. Nationwide, 57% of parents needing diaper assistance who rely on child care said they missed an average of four days of school or work in one month because they didn't have diapers, the network reported.

The pandemic also reduced the donations to North Carolina's three NDBN diaper banks. Church groups, corporate organizations and other donors who would normally conduct drives stopped meeting in person. Those drives used to bring in around 400,000 diapers a year, Old said. The three diaper banks distribute more than 3.4 million diapers a year.

"We are buying more diapers to meet the need than we have in the history of our organization," Old said.

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