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Donating diapers, Westfield native is a change agent
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Donating diapers, Westfield native is a change agent

Sometimes, when you want to make a difference, you have to start at the bottom.

For Joanne Goldblum, who grew up in Westfield with a passion for social service and “giving back,” that means helping struggling families obtain baby diapers.

With national Diaper Need Awareness Week (Sept. 8-14) coming right between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, Goldblum is urging people to make a donation to a “diaper bank” or help run a “diaper drive.”

Ten years ago, Goldblum, who now lives in New Haven, Conn., started a diaper bank there. It was one of the first in the country, and the example inspired others. Today the National Diaper Bank Network has donated millions of Huggies diapers in 33 states and the District of Columbia, and she serves as national executive director, working out of the New Haven office.

“We don’t advocate one specific solution; there are lots of different approaches,” she said, “but we want people to look at the problem and to consider ways they can help.” Cash, packages of diapers, or even opened, partial packages are all welcome.

“I think our mission particularly fits with erev Yom Kippur where we are called on to both perform acts of charity and to ask forgiveness,” Goldblum said. “To me, that combination speaks of not only kindness — but also of justice. We’re not just giving out diapers; we’re trying to create opportunity for families.”

Her connection to her childhood turf is still strong. She pointed out that Jewish Family Service of Central New Jersey and Jewish Family Service of MetroWest welcome diaper donations, and gifts can also be made to the Community FoodBank of New Jersey or the Union County Diaper Bank.

Growing up in Westfield, Goldblum — nee Samuel — attended Temple Emanu-El with her mother and Congregation Beth Israel in Scotch Plains with her father. Rabbi George Nudell of CBI officiated at her wedding. Though her parents were divorced, they conveyed to her a shared commitment to “social good and giving back, treating people decently. It’s just what we did,” she recalled.

She became a social worker as an adult. It was while doing home visits on behalf of the Yale Child Study Center in New Haven that she encountered “poverty on a level I hadn’t seen before — and just a mile from my home, in this area that was supposed to be so affluent.” Her husband David, whom she says shares her belief in tikun olam, or healing the world, said to her, “Why don’t we do something about it?”

She chose to focus on the need for diapers, she said, because it was so basic, and so problematic. A measure of how important they are? “Many stores keep them in locked cabinets,” Goldblum said.

Babies with wet bottoms cry more, and if they aren’t changed often enough, they can develop rashes that add to their distress — and the stress in the family. “A mother who is overwhelmed by problems like that has a harder time getting other children to school on time, or getting to work on time herself,” Goldblum said.

Huggies is a founding sponsor of her organization, and now provides around 20 million free diapers a year nationally.

“They have been a really amazing partner,” she said. Typically, the diaper banks aim to provide their clients with 50 diapers a month, not nearly enough to meet their needs but “a substantive portion,” Goldblum said. “We established that was a kind of tipping point, the amount which enabled most families to manage.” But meeting the total needed remains a huge challenge.

As for disposable diapers versus reusable cloth diapers, Goldblum acknowledged that it comes down to finances. Often without their own washers and dryers, or the funds to pay a diaper service, disadvantaged families don’t have the facilities, time, or money to reuse cloth diapers.

“Some women have amazing inner resources and can organize themselves well enough to deal with cloth diapers,” Goldblum said, “but for others it’s too much to deal with.”

For more information on the project, go to www.diaperbanknetwork.org.

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