Young people from the parishes of St. Thomas More, Manalapan; St. Leo the Great, Lincroft, Our Lady of Perpetual Help-St. Agnes, Atlantic Highlands, and St. Robert Bellarmine Co-Cathedral, Freehold, stand with the items they collected during the second annual Diaper Drive. Courtesy photo
Young people from the parishes of St. Thomas More, Manalapan; St. Leo the Great, Lincroft, Our Lady of Perpetual Help-St. Agnes, Atlantic Highlands, and St. Robert Bellarmine Co-Cathedral, Freehold, stand with the items they collected during the second annual Diaper Drive. Courtesy photo

By Lois Rogers | Correspondent

Picture it: Easter Tuesday, April 23, a 35-foot-trailer loaded with 10 pallets of diapers and baby wipes collected in the second annual Diaper Drive by the youth groups of four Monmouth County parishes pulls into the parking lot of Child Care Resources in Neptune.

Among the young people assisting in the delivery was Josiah Carter, 13, a first-year member of the St. Robert Bellarmine Co-Cathedral youth group.

“The best part was knowing that you were able to help someone in your own community,” said Carter.

“You can see the impact,” Carter said of the effort, which will help more than 500 families struggling to make ends meet in Greater Monmouth County this year. “I have been past the Child Care Resources Building before, but I didn’t know what went on there. Now I know. I like to help, and I will be looking for things to help with in the community.”

The drive was organized by the parish youth ministry of St. Robert Bellarmine Co-Cathedral; St. Thomas More, Manalapan; St. Leo the Great, Lincroft, and Our Lady of Perpetual Help-St. Agnes, Atlantic Highlands. It was born of a need brought last year to the attention of St. Thomas More’s Deacon Matthew Nicosia.

This year’s drive – like last year, held during Lent – had a goal of surpassing the 2018 campaign that collected eight pallets of diapers and wipes for the Diaper Bank at Child Care Resources. That effort was undertaken by youth from St. Thomas More and St. Robert Bellarmine.

The effort to surpass that total got a boost when Joan Kret, youth ministry coordinator in St. Leo the Great Parish, and OLPH-St. Agnes’ Marlene Iapalucci came on board with their youth, Deacon Nicosia said.

Further fueling the drive was an expanded outreach by the youth who not only reached out to parishioners and businesses as they had last year, but their schools as well.

“When the schools came on board, everything just clicked,” said Jeanne Marinello, the Co-Cathedral’s youth ministry coordinator.

There is no denying the need is great, Deacon Nicosia said. He remains “amazed at the need and astonished that families that need the diapers” can’t use federal or state aid to purchase them. “What drew [us] to the effort is that so many vulnerable families are affected.”

Indeed, Child Care Resources records that there were more than 4,000 children younger than 5 living in poverty in Monmouth County in 2015. While infants and toddlers can use from eight to 12 diapers a day, costing nearly $80 per month, diapers cannot be purchased with federal or state aid. Ultimately, one in three families nationally struggle to afford diapers.

This message was not lost on Carter and the scores of youth who participated in the Diaper Drive.

Twins Christopher and Mary Grace Enge, 16, of the St. Thomas More youth ministry, worked on the drive last year and were eager to do so again this Lent.

“When Deacon Matt told me last year that families can’t always afford them [diapers], I was shocked,” Christopher Enge said.

“Doing a drive like this opens the eyes of young people to what other people go through,” his sister added. “I wish we could get more people involved. People need to know about the needs all around them.”

Mallory Fitzhenry, 17, has been a member of the Co-Cathedral’s youth ministry since eighth grade and chairs its community service board. A member of the National Honor Society at Freehold Township High School, she was among youth group members who reached out to their schools.

This resulted in getting the event posted on multiple Facebook sites, in classrooms and hallways. “We had kids and teachers all working together,” she said. “We shared a lot. We connected.”

Helping make connections was the St. Leo the Great Parish Prayer Shawl ministry, which contributed “prayer squares” – small versions of the quilts they knit for those in need of comfort. Kret said the squares were attached to the packages of diapers, “so the moms would know that people are praying for them and their babies.”