Jason Fitzgerald, founder and organizer of the Dee PT Great Diaper Drive, stands in front of a collection of diapers, all of which will be donated to families in need via COTS. By early November the drive had collected 15,000 diapers, inching closer to their tenth anniversary goal of 80,000. 

A Decade of Donations: Fitzgerald Leads the Charge One Box of Diapers at a Time

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Thursday November 16, 2017

Ten years ago, Jason Fitzgerald was taking his morning run like any other day. Except that particular day, his thoughts, while pounding out the miles, were about young families in need. He recalls, “I was thinking of my own kids and, at the time, how many diapers they were going through, realizing that many families must have a difficult time affording a basic necessity.”

Fitzgerald is right. Diapers, a basic necessity, add a substantial cost to any family’s budget. According to Investopedia in August 2017, the average child will use more than 2,700 diapers in their first year alone, which can cost more than $550 annually, at the average price of 20 cents per disposable diaper. Multiply that amount by the years a child needs diapers by the number of children in a family, and that cost grows rapidly.

After that run, Fitzgerald reached out to the Committee on Temporary Shelter (COTS), the state’s largest service provider for the homeless and those at risk of becoming homeless, with an idea that is now celebrating its tenth anniversary – the Dee PT Great Diaper Drive. Since its inception in 2007, the drive has collected more than 260,000 diapers for COTS families. Their tenth anniversary has inspired the drive’s boldest goal yet. This year, Fitzgerald’s plan is to collect 80,000 diapers between October 25 and December 18. Fitzgerald, who is a clinical coordinator at Dee PT in South Burlington, remembers year one when “it was just two car loads of diapers,” says, “Now, it’s truckloads. I don’t think I imagined that.”

COTS Development Director Becky Holt said, “When I got to COTS, the Diaper Drive was already collecting thousands of diapers. We are grateful to the generous volunteers who host drives for COTS throughout the year, and while many often collect a lot of items, none came even close to what Jason and Dee PT did. I was stunned by the magnitude, the support, and dedication of the Dee PT team, led by Jason! He is an absolute positive force of nature.”

Dee PT, which also has offices in Hinesburg and Shelburne, are an integral part of the drive. Fitzgerald remarks, “It’s become a team effort throughout all three clinics.” In addition, Dee PT’s patients of the clinics add to the undertaking. “We have former patients who have come back every year, for the past ten years, just to bring in their donations. Some collect throughout the entire year and then come in with a bundle of diapers when collection officially starts,” says Fitzgerald.

The Great Diaper Drive has resounded well beyond Fitzgerald’s workplace. An intrepid and resourceful leader, he has made the drive a cause for many businesses around Chittenden County, often receiving donations by the caseload. Seventh Generation has been a substantial giver over the years. In addition, it is remarkable how the drive impacts individual community members. When personal budgets are tight, the concept of buying and donating a box of diapers may feel more doable than writing a check. Fitzgerald acknowledges that people like “the tangibility of a diaper donation,” but adds another powerful impact as well. “I also think it helps bring awareness to just how expensive diapers are when people actually go out and buy them. I can’t count how many times someone who either has grown kids, or no children, has come through the door and the first thing they say is, ‘Wow, diapers are so expensive!’”

Working at COTS, Holt, sees the effects of the diaper drive personally, “It makes life just a little easier for hundreds of parents in our community who are struggling to house, feed, and clothe their children.” She recalls one example in particular of a young mother, “She was working to stay housed with her baby. She was making it, but it wasn’t easy. She was warm, as she talked about her life, including her time in the military. The diapers were such a gift that day! They meant her tight budget wouldn’t be quite so tight that month, and it would be just a little easier to pay her rent in her newly secured housing.”

Fitzgerald, who manages to lead the drive while keeping the families in need foremost in his mind, recalls, “Two years ago, we delivered our donation to one of the local COTS shelters and there was a little girl, maybe two or three, who was watching us unload and every time we came in with a box, she’d smile and say, ‘Yay! More diapers! More diapers!’ I paused for a second, put a box of diapers on the ground, and she sat on them with a big smile on her face and continued to watch us. It made me realize that something so simple that most people take for granted, can even resonate with someone so young.”

It takes countless hours and a commitment beyond measure to not only start a large donation effort like the Diaper Drive, but to keep it growing year after year. Although Fitzgerald may be excited about the tenth anniversary, his bigger passion is the new goal of 80,000 diapers. In addition, he shares that the drive has increased his own awareness, “There are so many Vermont families that live in shelters and below the poverty line and that could happen to any one of us. It’s made me very thankful to have the time and means to help others.” Returning to his original thoughts of his own kids, he adds, “On a personal level it’s important to me to show my children that when given the opportunity to step up and help others, that you do it.”

The Great Diaper Drive: Help reach the goal of 80,000 diapers and more importantly help families in need. Diapers can be dropped off at any of the three Dee PT locations: 23 San Remo Drive, South Burlington; 166 Athletic Drive, Shelburne; 52 Farmall Drive, Hinesburg. If drop-off sites are inconvenient, someone will arrange to pick up donations. For more information, call 802-865-0010 or email at jasonfitzgerald@deept.com.


SOURCE: Carole Vasta Folley, The Other Paper