"It's diapers. Now that's really something."
Dixie Dohrmann, executive director at Christian Outreach in Action in downtown Long Beach, was talking about the increase in demand for diapers at the weekly distribution. In addition to the daily meals served and the food pantry, COA has been giving out diapers every Friday for years.
Keith Jajko, an operations director and media contact at COA, said the diaper day had typically attracted 20 to 25 parents — until the coronavirus hit. With diapers either gone off shelves or very expensive, the line has multiplied four- and five-fold, he said.
"Last week, it was 105; the week before, 110," Dohrmann confirmed. "I think it's when you get down to when it's diapers or food. And sometimes they need both."
COA tries to not turn anyone away, serving meals and opening the food pantry to anyone who needs help. When it comes to diapers, though, things are a bit more strict.
To get the allocated 13 diapers a child, people must either have the child (or children) with them or a form of identification such as a birth certificate, immunization record or a government benefits card. It is one child per adult, so some parents of two youngsters in diapers come together.
“They’re hard to find,” Jose Mercado told Jajko while waiting in line. He is among the thousands of Californians who lost a job due to the pandemic. “You go to the stores, and they’ll be out of the sizes you need.”
The giveaway includes bags of toiletries or food items when available. COA also opens a food pantry on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Breakfast is prepared every morning and dinner on weeknights — now given out at the door instead of served community-style, as has been tradition.
Dohrmann said COA has been forced to buy diapers retail, going from store to store like individual shoppers. No wholesale or donated source has been found, with the nonprofit paying $200 to $250 a week for diapers.
"We're making it by God's grace, literally," Dohrmann said. "Every time it looks like we can't, somehow it happens… the Long Beach Community Foundation was a godsend. They gave us a $20,000 grant (through the Long Beach Relief Fund). Most of that has gone to food and diapers."
Donations, from a box of diapers to big grants, are always welcome, Dohrmann said. There is a chute next to the Third Street entrance for physical donations — COA operate out of a converted church at Third and Linden Avenue. Monetary donations can be mailed to COA, 515 E. Third St., Long Beach CA 90802, and donations can be made directly at the website, coalongbeach.org.
"It just kind of breaks your heart," Dohrmann said. "Waiting in line for diapers. There's a real need."