First Lady Michelle Obama, won’t you help a mother out?


Yesterday First Lady Michelle Obama came to San Francisco’s Bayview district to kick off the call to public service United We Serve. How cool is that? She was joined by California’s First Lady, Maria Shriver and Craig Newmark (recall his blog post on little ‘ol us). United We Serve is slated to continue through September 11, 2009, but we hope that this will inspire countless citizens to continue their altruism long after the summer initiative is over.

From the Los Angeles Times:

The administration conceived the initiative as a way to encourage more Americans to address problems in their communities, especially in four key areas: education, health, energy and the environment.

“We have an administration that understands that service is the key to achieving our national priorities,” Obama said later Monday in a keynote address to the National Conference on Volunteering and Service in San Francisco.

To coincide with this national call to service, Craig and his team have launched a new website All For Good, which is basically Craiglist meets volunteerism. At HAMO world headquarters we are very excited about all of this public service hoopla, which brings me to the next item: let’s talk about US.

People always ask: Why did you start Help A Mother Out? For the backstory, you can read Rachel’s post on our origins, but the short and sweet version is simply – we did not have time to volunteer at a homeless shelter. For me, my hands are literally tied behind my back during the day with two young children.  SAHMs you know what I am talking about. I personally had NO business starting HAMO, but once Rachel and I dug deeper into these issues, by golly, how could we not go down the rabbit hole?

The point I am trying to make is that it doesn’t take much to help out another mother – even if you are a busy and over taxed parent. We hear from all of the agencies we partner with that families have to make the tough choice between food or diapers. This is something we ALL can help with, and it doesn’t take an endowment or fat bank account. In a not-so-roundabout way I’m asking you, dear Readers (and First Lady Michelle Obama, in the one-zillionth of a chance we show up on your radar) is, during this national initiative, that you buy some diapers for a needy mom. If you are reading this post, consider this YOUR CALL TO PUBLIC SERVICE.

The next time you have an urge to indulge in retail therapy, the next time you go to buy anything for yourself on, the next birthday or new baby you celebrate, the next time you find yourself at Target ($13.99 for a case of 96-count Target brand diapers!) or Costco, pick up an extra pack or a case of diapers/wipes. You can drop it off at any one of our local drop bins or even better, shop the HAMO administered wishlists and ship it DIRECT to the agency of your choice. By the way, we’ve added Los Angeles Diaper Drive and the Diaper Bank of Southern Arizona to our list of diaper bank partners, and our gift card offer is good for them too.

I recently came across this blog post from Feministing that was asking readers where they choose to donate. For me, this was such a timely post, because just yesterday we received our first repeat gift card request. The donor is someone who probably bought diapers in honor of Mother’s Day. This time, the request was to honor a birthday, and the person bought TWO cases of diapers. The Feministing post and this gift card request reminded me how much it makes me feel good to give and receive gifts that honor doing good in the community in a very direct and tangible way.

We hope that you will join us as we piggyback on the First Lady’s United We Serve initiative. We are working on our next community drive and have enlisted some amazing people, hopefully including yourself.  Please stay tuned to find out specifics in the coming weeks.

Your turn: What are the opportunities you see with the First Lady’s call to public service? Does your community group or organization have any United We Serve plans? Please share them with us here.


The Bay Area Diaper Bank Has Closed Its Doors


As previously reported, The Bay Area Diaper Bank recently closed due to lack of funding. If you think you might be interested in taking over the diaper bank, we can put you in touch with the right folks. Email us info (at) helpamotherout (dotorg).

With permission we are repubishing this communication written by Todd Madigan, Director of Development and Communications at  Sacred Heart Community Service. Like all of the agencies we are working with, SHCS is seeing a huge uptick in the amount of families in crisis. Food or diapers: which would you choose?


After her second visit in as many days, the social worker made the following entry in her case notes: “The eight-month old is still wearing the same diaper she had on when I visited yesterday morning.”

Julia’s family was struggling. The two jobs she worked provided enough money for rent, but left her strained for the rest of her needs. She wanted so desperately to provide a good life for her two girls, but things were getting more difficult.

Eventually she started receiving food stamps, and on one of her first trips to the grocery store, having just paid rent, she placed her items onto the checkout counter, relieved that her girls would be taken care of for another week. The clerk scanned each item, and after totaling everything, Julia slid her EBT card, thankful that she had calculated so precisely.

Standing at the register with a long line behind her was when Julia was told that food stamps do not cover diapers—they are not a basic need.

The closure of the Bay Area Diaper Bank has struck at the heart of our community’s most vulnerable families. The average cost of diapers for one child is $100 per month, an expense that is simply impossible for most of those we serve. This is all the more troubling when we recall that infants who are not changed frequently enough—with the resultant skin irritation and consequent fussing—are more likely to be abused.

Over the past year, the Diaper Bank has provided a quarter million diapers to some 20 agencies, but its last delivery was this month, coinciding with Mother’s Day. Please consider helping us provide this critical service.


Thank you Cubes & Crayons for Helping a Mother Out! Most recently, we sponsored a diaper drive at Cubes & Crayons, Silicon Valley campus, benefiting SHCS. C&C members were able to raise about 2500 diapers! Would your group like to try and beat C&C’s record?

We can help YOU host a diaper drive for SHCS .* Simply email us info (at) helpamotherout (dotorg). We have a diaper drive toolkit we can give you with easy steps on how you can raise diapers. If you think you would like to help today with a few easy clicks and the cost of a modest dinner out, consider purchasing a case of diapers or wipes off their wishlist. It ships direct to SHCS and is tax deductible. Check out our FAQ if you have more questions.

*In addition to SHCS, we can help you host a diaper drive for any one of the agencies we are working with throughout California. Check out our partners – the people who are doing direct work with families in crisis. We can help you reach out to one in your own community. Come join us!

What Not to Donate

photo by tangobaby

photo by tangobaby *Note: bourbon is for scale purposes only.

We appreciate all of your donations, we really do, but while sorting supplies we found some things in our drop bins that are, shall we say, somewhat less than useful. Things like ancient, stained baby dolls and stuffed animals.

photo by tangobaby

photo by tangobaby

And matches. Medical supplies (e.g., syringes, gauze, suture scissors). Broken umbrellas. 3-D glasses. Aromatic candles. Random books. Backpacks containing the remains of someone’s lunch. Unwrapped toothbrushes. Soiled clothing. Unwashed clothing. Swim diapers. Decorative bowls. Half-filled Nalgene bottles and half-filled peri bottles. Old baby bottles made with BPA plastics. Open, leaking, and nearly empty bottles of shampoo, lotion, and conditioner.


Although I must admit, the surgical gloves came in handy when sorting through some of these items, so thanks for those.

By contrast, here are some things that would be great to drop off:

  • Diapers! Especially in larger sizes (3 and up), in open or sealed packages.
  • Pull-ups
  • Baby wipes
  • Tampons and pads
  • Costco-sized packs of toothpaste and toothbrushes
  • Unopened, unleaky bottles of shampoo, conditioner, lotion — both travel and full size
  • Unopened baby care items (diaper cream, ointments, saline drops)
  • Unopened and unexpired infant formula
  • Brand-new socks and underwear for kids

A good rule of thumb for those who are considering donating items is to ask yourself, “Would I want to be given this?” If the answer is ewww, then please deposit the items in the trash instead. HAMO’s all-volunteer crew thanks you!

15,000 Diapers!

Diapers galore, by tangobaby.
I think it’s safe to say that our May Diaper Donation Drive was a smashing success: In one month, our supporters donated 15,000 diapers to families in need, plus thousands of travel-sized toiletries and baby wipes. For reference, the photo above shows about 1,500 diapers collected just from drop bins at Natural Resources and SadieDey’s Cafe. Ten times that number is a veritable mountain of diapers. Thanks to the ease of Amazon wishlists, generous folks from around the country were able to participate by simply pointing, clicking, and donating diapers directly to the agency of their choice. In San Francisco, Oakland, and San Jose, busy parents took time out of their days to drop off diapers and other supplies at collection bins that were frequently overflowing.
We at Help A Mother Out have been awed and overwhelmed by the response to what began as a modest Mother’s Day donation drive. When we first set up wishlists for a couple agencies in the San Francisco Bay Area, we had no idea that we would garner supporters statewide, let alone nationwide; we had no idea that we would tap into an inspiring, energizing network of folks across the state  and the country advocating on behalf of poor families; we had no idea we would recruit allies and volunteers from around the world to help us help some mothers out.
Sorting supplies in San Francisco, originally uploaded by tangobaby.
Our heartfelt thanks go out to everyone who donated and spread the word, and especially to the following cheerleaders, collaborators, and co-conspirators:

Craig is totally checking us out

As longtime users and fans of Craigslist, we’re honored and thrilled by this shout-out on Craig Newmark’s blog. Over the past 15 years, Craigslist has touched practically every aspect of my life: I’ve gotten awesome freelance gigs, rented swell apartments, purchased and sold a car, found the world’s best babysitter… I, like many of my peers, can’t imagine modern life without it.

We all know about the multitude of classified ads on Craigslist, but not as many people know about the cool civic-engagement work being undertaken by the Craigslist Foundation, or about Craig’s own advocacy on behalf of a number of progressive causes. They’re doing cool stuff, and we’re pretty darn proud that they think we’re doing cool stuff too.

CalWORKS Spared — For Now

Yesterday, guest poster Angie generously shared her personal experience as a CalWORKS recipient, and her well-founded fears that the program would fall victim to the California budget crisis. We were all set to post a blog entry with links to letter-writing campaigns urging the state legislature not to cut CalWORKS — but before we could hit “post,” we got news that the budget committee voted 6 to 1 to save the program!

This is of course wonderful news, but it’s tempered by the fact that many other crucial and extremely worthwhile programs are on the chopping block.

To stay updated on the budget situation (legislators are meeting right now to figure out what to cut and what to save), check out the Western Center on Law & Poverty’s frequently updated legislative blog. And, of course, keeping checking back here or follow our Twitter stream for action updates.

How the Budget Cuts Have Impacted My Family

Today’s guest post is from our newly minted super hero – Ms. Angie in San Diego. Angie is a senior at UCSD and a single mother to a little girl. After years of hardship, and super-human determination, a college degree is finally in sight for her. What keeps her up at night is not celebrating her collegiate accomplishments, but her own worries of whether or not her family will be homeless before she is able to graduate. As reported in our previous post, our state is in danger of completely losing our safety net programs, including CalWORKS and Healthy Families. Read Angie’s story to learn how these program cuts will directly effect her family and countless other “little stories” in our communities.

Thank you, Angie, for the honor of sharing your story with our readers. You are AMAZING.


Before I went back to school, I was working full time. I was working nights, for just above minimum wage. During the day I spent all of my time raising my daughter. Child care was not a financial possibility, and I can never repay my sister for watching my little girl during those long nights. Diapers were expensive, and those of us with young kids would fight over the marked down open packs of diapers. During those years I got further and further into debt, since my paycheck rarely covered basic needs. It was then that I decided to go back to school. I debated it for months, worrying about the financial impact, the emotional impact on my self esteem that I knew would suffer tremendously if I went on State Aid. Welfare. Welfare. We now call it “State Aid”, we call Food Stamps “EBT Cards”, but the ego and self-esteem destroyers remain the same. Spending hours in the offices, one line after another, waiting, waiting, waiting to be called to a window, a room. Paperwork in triplicate, documentation, documentation, fingerprinting, and all of the disdain that comes with it from the workers behind the glass, behind the partition, behind the door at the “house visits”, which are house inspections, looking into every drawer and pantry of your life.

I am currently almost done with school. I have worked part-time the entire time I was going to school, while also receiving Welfare. Even though there were many times I felt like quitting after having to take time off of either work or school to meet with a worker or fill out more paperwork, I hung in there. There were times when I thought, “This would be easier if I just quit school, got a regular job and stayed paycheck to paycheck forever. I can’t handle the constant negotiation and renegotiation to trying to figure out the right thing to say or do to make it with the Welfare office.”

But I held on, going on and off herbal and medical anti-depressants, ranting to an empty house and at the end of the month an empty fridge. I will have my BA at the end of the summer, and from that point on be able to forever take care of my family without any extra help. That is, if I can make it through these budget cuts. I dropped some of my classes over this last year because of cancer in my family. We lost two very loved and very much missed members of my family with in a year of each other. I would not wish cancer on my worst enemy. It was the most horrific thing I have ever been witness to, and to have to go through it all again so soon almost broke my spirit. I do not regret taking the time off since the precious time I spent with my Aunt and then her eldest daughter is something I could never replace. However, it has left me with no Financial Aid, and my hours at work are down to nothing.

If these budget cuts go through, my family will most likely be cut, since we have been on Welfare for a while now. Taking away CalWorks leaves us in dire straights. I cannot find a job that will work with the hours I need, and absolutely cannot afford childcare. We don’t receive a lot, only $286.00 a month in cash, but I have managed to make it stretch to keep us afloat. Without that money, we will be homeless. I do my best to make the Food Stamp money last as well, but fresh fruit and veggies are a beginning of the month luxury. It breaks my heart to hear my daughter proudly tell me that her friends were so nice to give her the extra food left over from their lunches. My guts wrench when she looks me in the eyes and says, “Pasta again mom? I don’t want to eat pasta again”, after the third or fourth time this week. The stress of the budget cuts keep me up at night, wondering if we will make it until the cuts go through. Wondering how we will survive if they actually do go through. We are borderline homeless now. Without that little bit of help…

I only need it for a few more months, but I know there are others that need more time. San Diego is a very expensive place to live, and most people have no extra money, let alone the money to move.  These cuts mean real things to real people, and this truly is the last thing we need in this economy. So many of us are barely surviving, why do you want to send us families to the streets?


Dear Readers:  Please take a moment to share your thoughts with Ms. Angie by posting a comment below.