Kyle, a 17-year-old high school student and Eagle Scout from Manchester, CT, has always been passionate about serving his community. Both of his parents are actively engaged in nonprofit and community work, and since he was little, he always wanted to follow in their footsteps.

In 2020, when COVID-19 forced Kyle and his peers to isolate in their homes, he realized that despite the challenges in his own life, many people in his community were experiencing greater suffering because of their socioeconomic and/or citizenship status. Even though food banks and public schools offered free meals for kids in need, Kyle realized that something vital was being overlooked — diapers.

In Kyle’s hometown there is unequal access for diapers, especially for members of the Latinx and Black community, along with individuals of low socioeconomic standing – many of whom live paycheck to paycheck and cannot afford to stock up on diapers. According to the United Way, 30% of households are ALICE (Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed) and 10% of households live in poverty. Diapers are an essential item, and without them infants and toddlers are at high risk of developing a rash that could eventually progress into an infection.

The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) and other governmental assistance programs do not cover or defray the costs of these products. Many members of underrepresented communities and low income parents are essential workers, needed in hospitals as nurses or as first responders and without providing diapers to their daycare centers, their children may not receive childcare.

Diapers on average cost a family $100 per a child per a month, which can be a significant expense for families. In a given day, infants will go through up to eight diapers, while toddlers will go through on average about six diapers a day. Kyle was shocked to learn that there are no diaper banks within a 20 mile radius of Manchester, CT, and decided to establish Gentle Love Diaper Pantry to help families in his community facing unmatched economic and psychological pain from the ongoing health crisis.

In the summer of 2020, Kyle collaborated with MACC (Manchester Area Conference of Churches), the ECHN Family Development Center, and the Welcome Center at the Office of Equity and Partnerships for Manchester Public Schools and held his first three contactless drives which collected over 35,000 diapers and 30,000 wipes.

Since its inception Gentle Love Diaper Pantry has provided over 200 families with diapers. The initiative was featured in a short news clip in WFSB Channel 3’s newscasts, in the Journal Inquirer, and spread to all the major Facebook pages in the community, helping raise awareness. Reflecting on his experience so far, Kyle writes: “We got to directly interact with caseworkers and hear from families on how the diapers they received made a substantial difference in their lives. Families now have over three different social service agencies that they can reach out to in order to receive diapers. Unlike most diaper banks in the country, there is no extensive proof of financial need that is required to receive services. Families just have to reach out and request for diapers. Families now can focus on other vital expenses, like rent, utility bills and food. We are only addressing a symptom of poverty in hopes that families will be connected to other resources that will hopefully help them break the cycle that they have become trapped in.”

Kyle and his team of other student leaders successfully filed for nonprofit status for the Gentle Love Diaper Pantry, and are now working to create a model to expand to more communities across the region and nationally — as well as looking for their own physical office space. He hopes to continue to collaborate with other local agencies and organizations to create more equitable and sustainable access to diapers and wipes for families in need.

Kyle has received a Peace First COVID-19 rapid response grant and is now a Peace First Ambassador. He joined the US and Canada Ambassador Mentorship task force to help support other high school students to start their own social action projects, and he has some valuable advice for future changemakers: “I would tell any changemaker who is starting a project that they should never lose sight of their goals and continue to push forward even in the face of challenges. You will be doubted by other adults and they will try to discourage you but do not under any circumstances give in. Remember what ignited your passion for your injustice. Lean on your support systems when needed, network and build connections because these will help you move forward. And finally, turn your challenges into learning opportunities.”

To learn more about Gentle Love Diaper Pantry, Check out their website and follow their Facebook and Instagram pages.