A year ago in Detroit, some 30,000 Lutheran youth brought boxes upon boxes of diapers with them to the ELCA Youth Gathering held there in July. Why diapers?

Prior to the event, planners asked Detroit-area agencies what donations were needed. “Over and over the answer was diapers,” said Lisa Jeffreys, director for youth ministries with the Southeast Michigan Synod. “We heard stories of clients who wrap their babies’ bottoms in grocery bags.”

The problem is this: If a single mother seeks to lift her family out of poverty, she needs a job. To get one, she needs child care. Yet most child care providers require parents to supply disposable diapers. So a mother can’t buy diapers unless she gets a job, which she can’t get unless she has diapers. In Detroit some stores keep diapers behind the counter because desperate parents might be tempted to steal them.

Before the Gathering, Jeffreys visited several Detroit organizations that distribute food and clothing. “Each one had what looked like a permanent sign that read: ‘Sorry, we don’t have diapers,’ ” she said. “After the Gathering, those signs came down.”

Youth, their congregations and Women of the ELCA groups donated more than 1 million disposable diapers last July.

That simple request before the Gathering continues as a ministry today. With funds from the Gathering and Women of the ELCA, the Southeast Michigan Synod provides diapers to families in need in Wayne and Macomb counties. Young people are guiding this ministry, with the grant process overseen by the synod’s Young Adult Steering Initiative, whose members serve as grant reviewers.

Unprecedented giving following the Gathering helped launch the ministry. As much as $90,000 was given by youth and congregations inspired by their Detroit experience, said Molly Beck Dean, Gathering director. “This generosity is on top of the $30,000 [ELCA members] collected prior to the Gathering,” she added. “Clearly diapers really spoke to people.”

Beck Dean hopes this experience will last far beyond the Gathering and extend to the youths’ communities. “The need for diapers in Detroit is huge,” she said, “but this need exists in other communities too.”

Kinda Makini, the synod’s diaper ministry administrator, said, “This ministry has touched the lives of so many people. We really appreciate the opportunity to assist and be able to do more.”

It touched the life of one woman who has full custody of her two grandchildren, one 18 months and the other 9 months. “She was extremely high need,” Makini said. “We gave her four cases of diapers in two sizes, plus wipes. She was so happy she was in tears.”

To help or learn more, visit semisynod.com.


Laurel Hensel
Hensel, a member of St. Luke Lutheran Church, Park Ridge, Ill., is director of communications for Presence Health Foundation in Chicago.

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