SCOTTSBLUFF, Neb. — “Changing the Valley and getting to the bottom of things…one diaper at a time” is the slogan for Diaper Depot, a ministry of First Baptist Church in Scottsbluff, Neb. Not only is the project helping change the community. It also has broadened the church’s vision.
Last year, First Baptist joined 19 sister churches across Nebraska in a Missional Church Learning Experience to discover ways to connect to and build relationships in their communities. American Baptist Home Mission Societies developed the training opportunity about five years ago to assist congregations to recognize and minister to local needs.
The church’s team spent six months talking with people in the community, noted volunteer youth leader Chris Smith. Team members learned many families in the area, which includes about 25,000 people in Scottsbluff and neighboring Gering, need diapers.
Smith’s wife, Carissa, had worked at a local clinic where medical staff saw a lot of babies with rashes or sores. Often, the parents had to choose between buying diapers or food, Smith explained. When the team discovered no organization was meeting the need, the church developed Diaper Depot, launching the ministry this summer.
The congregation partners with several other organizations, including Healthy Families Across Nebraska, the local hospital, United Way and more.
Distribution toward the end of the month and in smaller quantities than that available in retail packages allows the church to assist families without encouraging dependency on the ministry, Smith explained.
Ministry volunteers divide purchased diapers into separate bags — 24 for newborns through size 3 and 20 of sizes 4-6. The church distributes diapers generally only on the last Saturday of each month from 9-11 a.m.
In between regular distributions, the church will meet emergency needs. Cheri Cole, wife of Pastor Gary Cole, serves as the “sort of unofficial” coordinator, Smith said. She purchases diapers and often takes care of needs as they arise.
Most people whom the ministry has assisted have come only a few times. But the church is assisting a few on a continuous basis because of their circumstances, Smith said.
As word spread, area merchants and others have stepped up to provide additional items, including food and clothing for infants and toddlers. The ministry does not receive government funds. “We are sharing the love of Jesus,” Smith said. “We are not going to do anything that will take away from that…. Our goal is that we are being the hands and feet of God.”
Careful not to push people, volunteers take advantage of opportunities to give a verbal witness to those they assist. They pray with those who ask for prayer and give tracts. Members of a sister church in Arthur write notes or Scripture on small cards and provide those to Scottsbluff to include in each bag.
The Scottsbluff church has been able to connect on a different level with community leaders through the Diaper Depot, making members more aware of available assistance. “The networking has been tremendous…. We have discovered groups we didn’t know even existed and are able to work with them,” Smith said. “We are able to direct people to groups that can help them…. Now we can do a lot more to help people.
The project has inspired other ministries. The congregation’s crocheting club started making hats, gloves and scarfs to distribute. “They have gone out of their way to start meeting needs locally,” Smith noted.
Church members also have adapted the Samaritan Purse Christmas Shoebox ministry, packing basics and small gifts in shoeboxes to distribute in the community. “God has opened the floodgates of people recognizing what they can do,” the youth minister added.
The realization that God wants believers to minister where they are has been especially meaningful for Smith. “Initially, we heard some say, ‘People are going to take advantage of us.’ There are still folks not sold on Diaper Depot…but they have seen the need…and excitement and energy has popped up,” he said.
“I think that has sparked a realization of what God wants us to do…. I’m happy that we’ve been able to help people see the need.”