Within minutes after a woman dropped off the highchair in the Eastside Baby Corner donation bay, volunteer Richard Scott inspected it. Three-point safety straps? Check. Was it solid? Check...
Within minutes after a woman dropped off the highchair in the Eastside Baby Corner donation bay, volunteer Richard Scott inspected it.
Three-point safety straps? Check. Was it solid? Check. Was it on a recall list? No. It’s a go.
“It’s a bit dirty but it can be washed,” Scott said, carrying the chair to a waiting social worker.
Inside the Issaquah warehouse other volunteers filled orders for cases of diapers, formula and baby food, checked the size of car seats and packed plastic bags of clothing for babies and toddlers. As quickly as a bag was packed, a car seat matched to an order or a jacket the right size found, it was passed to a representative from a social-service agency and loaded into vans and cars.
“That warm jacket that goes out of here this morning will be on a cold child by evening,” said Karen Ridlon, founder of Eastside Baby Corner. “We have 596 orders this week, and 180 bags of clothes going out.”
This was a good week. Whatever Ridlon and the volunteers handed out the front door seemed to be coming in the back of the Issaquah warehouse that supplies 167 social-service agencies and food banks from Kenmore to Renton.
It doesn’t always work that way.
While the majority of the agency’s work is geared toward infants and toddlers, it also clothes children up to the age of 12. Much of the clothing, toys and some furniture is recycled donated by supporters. That works fine for high-demand items such as strollers and highchairs, but the need for cash to purchase supplies rises each year.
In 1991, Eastside Baby Corner distributed $81,599 worth of infant supplies. A decade later, in 2001, that had increased to more than $3.3 million. This year Ridlon expects that total to be $4.4 million.
It will accomplish that on a cash budget of $240,000 minus $58,000 received as the start of an endowment.
When she started, overhead was zero. Now the group has to pay for things such as computer-printer cartridges and shipping costs when it orders in bulk.
“We pay no salaries, but our overhead is still 4.5 percent of the budget,” she said. “We stretch our dollars. We try not to run out of diapers and formula, buying those by the pallet. Volunteers make good use of coupons and we’re always looking for sales.”
For Ridlon, the Baby Corner is just an expansion of what she’s done for years taking care of children. She was a pediatric nurse practitioner. Most of her salary went to buy formula and diapers for her youngest clients. When auto-immune diseases compromised her health, she had to quit nursing. She began collecting formula and diapers for food banks, patterned after a small program in Seattle.
Other volunteers stepped forward Ridlon’s passion envelops people and she expanded.
“When my three children, who are now grown, were little, I used to go outside in the back yard and raise my arms to the sky and ask for patience. Imagine how I would have felt if I couldn’t feed them or take care of them,” she explained.
“Parents want to be kind and loving but how do you be a good parent if your children are crying because they’re hungry and you have no food, or if they’re crying because they’re wet and you have no diapers? We need to take care of all the children so they know they’re cherished.”
Eastside Baby Corner’s board and volunteers focus on getting supplies to families. They hold board meetings while they’re sorting clothes. Ridlon once asked volunteers if they’d like recognition, a pizza party perhaps? The volunteers said to spend the pizza money for formula and questioned why anyone would sit down when there are so many things to be sorted and clothes to be bagged.
Social workers give the agency high praise.
“Families would go without if it weren’t for Eastside Baby Corner,” said Noelle Powell who works with Head Start and other programs in Renton. “When we go on a home visit, because of this agency we can help families with food and clothes. There are often no other options for some of these families.”
Caren Martin from Hopelink’s Adelle Maxwell Child Development Center in Bellevue said that without the diapers and formula, her clients would be in serious trouble.
“They can’t afford diapers,” she said. And when parents can’t afford diapers a child may spent 12 or 24 hours in the same diaper.
Ridlon jumped up from her chair at the front desk to go look for a double stroller. She had just heard about a small child who can’t be separated from his medical equipment. There was no double stroller in the warehouse.
The social-service worker started to leave and stopped to answer his cellphone.
Ridlon went back to the receiving area where another volunteer had just helped unload a double stroller. She ran out to where the social-service worker was sitting in his car to say they found a stroller.
“It’s like the loaves and fishes story,” she said. “Miracles happen here.”
Sherry Grindeland: 206-515-5633 or firstname.lastname@example.org