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Healthy Beginnings gets to bottom of pressing need in Williamsburg

  • A wall of diapers
    A wall of diapers  Caroline Kelsey, a master’s student involved with the William & Mary Healthy Beginnings Project, stands beside the project’s wall of diapers. While it looks a bit sparse now, the team hopes that by the end of the November diaper drive, the wall will be filled to overflowing.  Photo by Graham Bryant, J.D. '16
  • Loading the truck
    Loading the truck  Community members load a truck with donated diapers during a previous diaper drive. The Healthy Beginnings Project hopes to collect at least 10,000 diapers during the month of November.  Courtesy photo
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When service-minded students think of pressing needs in the Williamsburg community, big picture issues like poverty, hunger, and inadequate housing come to mind. One team of researchers at William & Mary, however, looks to address such critical concerns by providing for a more humble need: diapers.

Two psychology students involved with the William & Mary Healthy Beginnings Project have authored a paper exploring the need for a diaper bank in Williamsburg. Recently published in the VA Engage Journal, the article has focused attention on the Healthy Beginnings Project’s third annual diaper drive to help supply those in need in the greater Williamsburg community.

This year’s goal: to collect 10,000 diapers during the month of November.

Meeting a need

“Being able to provide an adequate supply of diapers is really important because people don’t realize just how many diapers a baby needs. A newborn needs about 12 diapers a day, and the cost can reach hundreds of dollars in diapers alone,” said Caroline Kelsey, a psychology master’s student. Kelsey and Constance Hull ’16 authored the article, titled “Helping the Community from the Bottom Up: Distributing Diapers to the Williamsburg Community.”

That paper argues that the absence of a local diaper bank in Williamsburg propagates many negative consequences arising from a lack of clean diapers, including psychosocial stressors that can hinder impoverished families and harm children’s health. In response, the Healthy Beginnings Project has developed a new direct-mail diaper bank model to meet this community’s needs.

Williamsburg in particular is in need of a diaper bank because of its distance from both Richmond and Hampton, where the only other two other diaper banks in the area are located, Kelsey said.

The traditional diaper bank model requires potential recipients to go through an extensive vetting process as well as to incur the added cost of traveling to the bank—a cost that often proves prohibitive for those most in need.

In contrast, the Healthy Beginnings Project allows community members to request up to one package of diapers per month, which is then mailed directly to the mothers in need.

“We tend to be a way more streamlined service than other diaper banks,” Kelsey said, noting that one drawback to their model is that, as volume increases, it may not be sustainable.

Through partnerships with community agencies and William & Mary, the diaper bank hopes to expand its services to create a more sustainable model to continue serving families in the Greater Williamsburg community.

Healthy Beginnings

The diaper bank project at William & Mary developed from the Healthy Beginnings Project, which itself is a product of existing research conducted by psychology faculty members and students. Comprised of an interdisciplinary team of professionals, educators, medical personnel, and students committed to helping women have healthier pregnancies and babies, the Healthy Beginnings Project aims to provide support to incarcerated, pregnant women and new mothers.

The Healthy Beginnings Project team began providing these women diapers, and from this start, the diaper bank has expanded its scope to the wider Williamsburg community. The project is not simply a community service initiative—it also supports a thriving body of social science research at William & Mary.

“It’s always important to keep your mind on what is going on in the community, and being out in the community and serving it can really inform your personal research,” said Kelsey, the only graduate student working on the project.

She and Hull, who is studying in India this semester, alongside associate professors of psychology Danielle Dallaire, principal investigator, and Catherine Forestall, co-principal investigator, have used the project’s work to gain new insights into their research.

“The lack of diapers is one seemingly little issue that causes so much strain. That makes me put on my psychology hat and try to figure out what impact this has on the family and what this does in the larger context,” said Kelsey.

Regardless of their academic insight, the Healthy Beginnings Project investigators never lose sight of the positive impact their work has on those in need.

“The global lesson here is that just one thing missing can really cause a lot of stress in the family. It’s always good, when you are in the bubble of college, to remember that there are these problems going on outside,” Kelsey said. “Just one little thing, like providing diapers for a family, can make such a difference.”

Get involved

The Healthy Beginnings Project Diaper Drive will run from Nov. 1 through Nov. 30. Those interested in donating diapers can do so at the following campus locations:

  • Old Dominion Hall, Child and Family Study Center
  • Department of Psychology, Integrated Science Center room 1137
  • The Campus Child Care Center
  • Hoke House
  • The Law School’s Student Lounge
  • Swem Library

In addition, donations can be made online through Amazon. For more information, contact the Healthy Beginnings Project at or call 1-855-825-3541.