Kidsburgh heroes: These twins collected 6,548 diapers and wipes (so far)

Photo: Mary and Stella Fannie at the Western Pennsylvania Diaper Bank.

Last year around Mother’s Day, when the reality of the pandemic was taking hold, Stella and Mary Fannie decided to spend their time out of school helping others.

The twin sisters, rising seniors at Pine-Richland High School, chose to volunteer on behalf of the Western Pennsylvania Diaper Bank. They put up flyers, posted notices to their neighborhood Facebook page and knocked on doors — ultimately collecting 3,614 diapers and baby wipes.

“We got a lot of support from neighbors. It was really incredible, and we knew that next year we’d be in school and could increase this number even more,” says Mary.

Indeed, once in school this year, Mary Fannie, who is treasurer of the Pine-Richland student government, put the idea of a diaper drive to the other officers. Stella, a member of the National Honor Society, did the same with her peers. The result: Between school and neighborhood donations, they collected a whopping 6,548 diapers and wipes.

“It was an awesome thing to see,” says Stella. “We were leaving school and our car was filled to the brim with diapers. We knew we’d have the support of clubs we’re both in, and our teachers were also very involved.”

Founded in 2012 by Cathy Battle and her husband Phillip, pastor at New Light Temple Baptist Church in the Hill District, the Western Pennsylvania Diaper Bank has grown from six original partner agencies to 32 agencies and distributed 1.3 million diapers in Allegheny, Westmoreland and Fayette counties. As many as one in three families may be in need for diapers and baby supplies, says Cathy Battle.

“They’re struggling with basic needs because there is no government assistance for basic needs,” says Battle. “If you are on a limited income, it’s very hard. … We call it a diaper crisis because moms don’t know there’s help for diapers. What some moms have been doing is leaving the baby in a diaper for long periods, trying to dry out the diaper and reuse it. You get health risks of diaper rash and urinary tract infections, so we’re trying to raise awareness.”

The Diaper Bank’s mission is simple: To ensure that babies in need are clean, healthy and dry. Its vision is to help create a community “where all families have an equal opportunity to thrive,” according to the organization’s website. Donors can offer actual products, as the Fannie sisters do, or make monetary gifts of $25, $50, $100 or $250.

Among the Diaper Bank’s long-term goals are providing other infant hygiene products, providing geriatric diaper supplies, and mentoring teenage parents.

Not many young people volunteer with the organization, says Battle. Most diaper drives are organized by corporations or people holding birthday parties, baby showers and the like, so the donations gathered by the Fannie sisters are all the more notable.

“We don’t have many teenagers that come in and donate. I think they’re the only teenagers,” Battle says. “Stella and Mary, their parents have done well with them — they’re amazing. And I know they’ll be back. I think when people hear that babies don’t have diapers, they give because it’s a baby.”

Mary, a soccer player, also volunteers to coach younger girls. She and Stella, a track and cross-country runner, have both volunteered with Girls on the Run, helping younger girls with their outlook on life and sports.

The teens are interested in pursuing health care careers since their parents are both physicians’ assistants. When the pandemic kept them at home last year, their parents encouraged them to explore starting a diaper drive.

“When we went the first time to drop off all the diapers, our parents went with us,” says Mary. “We spent two hours in the warehouse where other parents were making care packages with diapers and wipes.”

They chose to volunteer for the Diaper Bank knowing that diapers, wipes and other items for babies and their mothers might be forgotten by most people.

“There’s such a great need for food or clothing, and donating to those organizations is important, but one thing every child needs is diapers and wipes, and diapers could be overlooked,” says Stella. “This organization is really great, helping out many women. … We’re women and we want to support other women.”

The Diaper Bank helps those in need with more than just diapers and wipes. Its partner organizations include two — the Hugh Lane Foundation LGBTQ and the Sex Workers Outreach Project — that are part of the Diaper Bank’s new Period Project to collect period products for women who may not be able to afford them while paying for other necessities. It’s a need that’s often not discussed but one that any woman can appreciate, says Battle.

“This year we’ve launched a period advocacy program where we are schooling young girls on period poverty, their needs, and taking the stigma off the embarrassment of it, [explaining] that it’s a natural thing,” she says. “You’d be surprised how many people don’t have access to period products — one in five women. They try to use other things. Period products are very expensive.”

The Fannie sisters encourage others to get involved in charitable outlets, knowing that giving to others is intrinsic to a satisfying life. They were thrilled to learn that their large donations of diapers and wipes helped to completely restock the shelves at the Diaper Bank when supplies ran low.

“Think of something that people need, especially women,” Stella suggests.

“There’s so many organizations that anyone can volunteer for,” says Mary. “If you are passionate about something, I would say do some research about it. I’m sure there’s an organization out there that you can help.”

Interested in volunteering with the Western Pennsylvania Diaper Bank? Families are welcome with kids from ages 14 and older. Learn more here.