A Publication of WTVP

Distributing Diapers, and Dignity Too

by Monica Vest Wheeler |
Loving Bottoms Director Lee Ann Porter
Loving Bottoms Director Lee Ann Porter

Galesburg’s Loving Bottoms has been stepping up for families in need, and wants to do more

A desperate need for diapers for her own infant years ago gave Lee Ann Porter a unique insight into families struggling to acquire this baby basic.

Alone in Kentucky and far away from her Illinois roots, Porter never forgot the embarrassment of having to repeat her story to get public aid when her husband left, and the toll it took on her dignity. Since the local pantry had no diapers, she used clothes and towels to wrap her 6-month-old son, and felt like a failure as a mother. She pawned her wedding ring to buy diapers and household needs.

Frustration morphed into fierce determination after Porter returned to Illinois and met a new life partner, with whom she started a new family. Years later, upon reading an online article about families in need of diapers, Porter gave birth to her new baby: Loving Bottoms Diaper Bank, based in Galesburg.

“I realized it wasn’t just a ‘me’ thing. Others had this need, too,” said Porter, now 49, who discovered that one in three families had trouble affording diapers. So, she decided to start her own diaper collection campaign to help local families.

“If you’ve got Google and a lot of desire, you can do almost anything,” she said.

She did her due diligence and dreamed of creating a nonprofit, though was initially intimidated by the paperwork. Persistence and frugality led to applying for the easy version of a 501(c)3 because “I wasn’t sure it would last. I’m not a long attention person,” she said, laughing.

After soliciting donations and seeking partners, Porter built an operation based on a food bank model. She wanted a full-service, one-stop program because she remembered how exhausting and humiliating it was to go from place to place for basics, which wasted precious time for families working or trying to find jobs.

Loving Bottoms provides 50,000 diapers a month to 1,000 babies

“I was constantly trying to arrange things. I’d get an $80 child support check and was afraid I’d run out of gas before I could reach my destination,” Porter said. She considered herself lucky to have a vehicle, as “a lot of people didn’t have that much.”

Fast forward to the debut of the diaper bank. About 60 people initially responded when she announced the availability of diapers. Only six showed up.

“I was so disappointed and thought I needed to close. I guess I wasn’t a good salesperson,” Porter said. It would take six months to bring on the first partner, the Salvation Army in Galesburg. People started showing up for diapers there. They also found food resources.

By the end of 2016, more partners were trickling in. Today, Loving Bottoms works with 28 agencies in 13 counties, providing 50,000 diapers a month to 1,000 babies.

In its first five years ending in 2021, the nonprofit gave away 1 million diapers. The 2 million mark was reached just two years later. It quickly grew out of Porter’s home and now operates out of a 6,000-square-foot warehouse.

“We don’t go out looking for partners now. We have a waiting list but not enough resources. It breaks my heart that we can’t offer more, as so many families are living at or below the poverty level,” said Porter.

“It’s hard to admit you need diapers because you’re afraid of being accused of not being able to care for your child,” she added. “Parents may work full-time, but they still need help. The car breaks down and it takes everything you have in your bank account to fix because you need the car to get to work.” Many families only need a short bridge of assistance.

Meanwhile, Porter is seeking parents to provide education about the advantages of cloth diapers. And the organization tackled another social stigma in 2018 after discovering that two in five women can’t afford menstrual supplies, which can affect their health and income if they overuse hygiene products or don’t have protection. Loving Bottoms distributes 400 period kits a month, which are assembled at the warehouse.

Pamela Wiley, executive director of Hand Up Peoria, said she found Loving Bottoms online two years ago. Picking up about 60 diapers every month has been a big help to her clients, who also have turned to Loving Bottoms for their private hygiene needs. “It’s a blessing to help these folks,” said Wiley.

A third component is a growing need for adult undergarments, which can be very expensive for low-income seniors. Porter said this is a harder segment of the population to reach because it’s such a personal issue.

“If the kids find out, will they put them in a nursing home? There’s a stigma about it,” she said. Some seniors stop going out, even to church or family gatherings. With less social interaction, depression can set in, and their health declines because they’re not as active. That puts them into assisted living and nursing homes much sooner.

‘It breaks my heart that we can’t offer more, as so many families are living … below the poverty level’ — Lee Ann Porter

Preserving human dignity is central to Porter’s mission. It can’t be done without the dedication of volunteers.

“We really love our volunteers. We have hundreds of people come through every year, and we couldn’t do all we do without them … the groups that hold donation drives collecting products, the people that simply believe in what we do enough to give to us monetarily.”

Now Porter has taken on another role as a birth doula, assisting during pregnancy, labor and childbirth. She’s also attending college to get a degree in business administration.

“I’m not the same person I was,” the person who “would have probably hidden and not done this,” said Porter. “I didn’t know we could do so much just by asking to help people.”

Wish list for Loving Bottoms:

  • Feminine hygiene products
  • Baby diapers, especially pull-ups
  • Adult XL and 2XL pull-up brief undergarments
  • Financial donations

Upcoming fundraiser:

11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Sunday, May 21

The Vault at Reserve Artisan Ales 185 S. Kellogg St. Galesburg

Contact information: (309) 297-4754 or [email protected]

Monica Vest Wheeler

Monica Vest Wheeler

is an author and speaker who focuses on Peoria-area history and those dealing with the everyday challenges of brain-related injuries, illnesses and diseases