A little healthy competition will make a healthier community.
Some of Pettis County’s greatest unmet needs are for diapers, wipes and infant formula, along with hygiene and paper products (toilet paper, feminine products, paper towels, and so on). Staci Harrison, executive director of Sedalia-Pettis County United Way, explained why one of those items – diapers – is especially vital, and how it is in essence a chicken-and-egg conundrum:
A parent needs to put their infant in daycare so the adult can go to work, but daycare providers typically require that the parent provide diapers for their child; the parent can only afford diapers if they are able to work. Harrison added that the problem goes deeper.
“It is a health issue,” she said. “If a child is in wet diapers, or soiled diapers, they are not moving. If they aren’t moving, they aren’t learning, if they aren’t learning, they aren’t growing. That starts off a horrible foundation for a child because they need so much in those first few months of their lives.”
A few weeks ago, United Way board member Barry Henderson asked Harrison about problems people were having getting back to work. She explained the diaper issue, along with other needs.
“I’m all about people going to work who want to work,” Henderson said. But his goal was to ensure what was provided was “a hand up, not a handout.” He wanted to make certain diapers and other items would “get into people’s hands who truly need them, who cannot afford them.”
Harrison consulted with Roxanna Parker at Pettis County Community Partnership, then met with Henderson and representatives from Tyson, which has been a great contributor to United Way and its member agencies. What emerged is Cram the Closet, an ongoing effort that is designed to help those in need and create some friendly competition among local industries that want to invest in our community. Tyson and other county industries will vie to see which team can donate the most diapers, wipes, formula and toilet paper between March 8-25.
Henderson, a commercial printing sales representative for PrintLynx, said the competition concept started as a joke. Harrison suggested it, but when they learned that Tyson Foods’ plant in Dresden has “about 20 times more employees” than PrintLynx, they looked at other manufacturers in the Sedalia area and came up with the challenge: Tyson vs. Pettis County industries.
“I think we’re still outmanned,” Henderson said with a laugh. “I presented this to our crew (Wednesday) and got a little bit of a grumble when I said we were taking on Tyson, but then got smiles when I said all the other manufacturers were joining us. It’s going to be fun.”
PCCP will maintain the “closet” and keep track of inventory. All county service providers will have access to the products. Harrison said having the agencies distribute the items will ensure people with legitimate needs are getting assistance.
“There is a huge push right now to hold people accountable for the choices they are making but also to give them the tools they need to be successful,” she said. “So we are not just putting a Band-Aid on, we are looking at the situations they are in and giving them the tools they need. (The closet) helps minimize duplication of services – we are helping people who are at the most risk.”
Henderson said, “We picture this as an ongoing effort over the next several years.” Plans are to have challenges in the future among other industries and business groups, and with the partnership monitoring the closet’s inventory those challenges can be tailored to meet specific needs.
“We don’t want a lot of product donated that is not being used,” Harrison said.
Individuals who want to help Cram the Closet can drop off donations of diapers, wipes and toilet paper at PrintLynx, 3131 W. Main St. Henderson welcomes the assistance, not only for the competition but even more for the impact it will have on our community.
“I have five grandchildren now – I know that diapers are expensive,” he said. “We’re trying to break a cycle. If we can get those folks to work who want to work, it’s just been a stumbling block for them and we can try to remove that.”
Bob Satnan is the communications director for Sedalia School District 200.