Manalapan deacon, parish communities work to address diaper needs in Monmouth County
For Deacon Matthew Nicosia of St. Thomas More Parish, Manalapan, the idea to start collecting diapers for families in need some three years ago was borne of compassion for children living in poverty.
“There are so many aspects of their lives that are being affected – their health and their mental state, [and] having to stay in a soiled diaper longer than necessary,” he says. “When it comes to these vulnerable individuals, they need a voice.”
From its beginnings as a youth ministry project, the effort has since grown to encompass additional parishes across Monmouth County. And with a partnership with the nonprofit Child Care Resources of Monmouth County Inc., and growing interest to help in the community, the program is poised to expand even further in the months to come.
The effort has also drawn the support of Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M., who shared an email message with priests throughout the Diocese about the need for diapers, the nonprofit partnership and how faithful in central New Jersey can help.
Deacon Matt, who serves as the parish’s youth minister, was first contacted in 2018 by a representative of the Neptune nonprofit Child Care Resources of Monmouth County, requesting support in the form of a diaper collection drive.
“We started collecting diapers in our parish, and it went extremely well,” he says, noting that they joined forces with the youth ministry in St. Robert Bellarmine Co-Cathedral, Freehold. All told, the effort yielded four pallets of diapers.
The effort grew the following year, expanding the partnership to additional parishes – St. Rose of Lima Parish, Freehold; St. Leo the Great Parish, Lincroft; St. Gabriel Parish, Marlboro, and Our Lady of Perpetual Help-St. Agnes Church, Atlantic Highlands. That year, the yield grew to eight pallets.
This year, Deacon Matt planned to connect the diaper drive to the Lenten season for children in parish youth groups. “We wanted to give the kids an idea of what almsgiving was like,” he says. Early in the year, the initiative netted yet another pallet of diapers.
The onset of the pandemic made traditional collection efforts a challenge, but Deacon Matt adapted, securing a grant to purchase a trailer to allow for mobile diaper collections. Between those collections, a community drop-off site and spreading awareness during National Diaper Need Awareness Week in September, this year’s haul has increased to over 6,500 diapers.
Plus, St. William the Abbot Parish in Howell collected an additional 3,625 diapers for the cause during that parish’s Respect Life Sunday observance in October.
The need for these essential care items, Deacon Matt says, could not be clearer. It is estimated that one in three families across the country struggles to afford diapers, which can cost nearly $80 per month for infants and toddlers. Child Care Resources records indicate that more than 4,000 children younger than five were living in poverty in 2015. Additionally, public benefits cannot be used to pay for diapers.
Kim Perrelli, the nonprofit’s executive director, explains that providing diapers to a family in need can lead to outcomes like “an increase in parental happiness and a reduction in caregiver stress,” and “the ability to spend income on other basic needs.”
For Deacon Matt, the call to serve others is closely connected with faith.
“When it comes to the Catholic Church and the social teachings of the Church, we are supposed to be there for each other,” he says. “Even in challenging times, the Church has always been there to help.”
Deacon Matt hopes that his ministry continues to grow, and that they can continue to support the diaper bank at Child Care Resources. As a new member of the nonprofit’s board of directors, he has been working to help the agency as it seeks to expand its support to the community.
“[Deacon Matt] took time to understand the need, then rolled his sleeves up, and got to work,” says Perrelli.
Jeanne Marinello, youth minister in St. Robert Bellarmine Co-Cathedral, has been working with Deacon Matt since the beginning, and Msgr. Sam Sirianni, rector of the Co-Cathedral, recently approved a year-round collection of diapers and wipes for Child Care Resources in his parish community.
“We are all on board to make a difference,” says Marinello. “I really hope that more parishes hop aboard because the need is so gigantic.”
As for Deacon Matt, he is happy to work with anyone who would like to help meet the need. “I’ve got a truck, I’ve got a trailer, and I’ll drive all around Monmouth County to pick up diapers.”