Fighting the scourge of family violence one nappy at a time

Amid fierce community debate on increasing rates of family violence, one Melbourne woman is taking action to help women and children that flee domestic abuse.

Sandra Jacobs, 34, is the founder of The Nappy Collective, a not-for-profit that collects unused disposable nappies and donates them to women’s shelters around the country. To date, the organisation has redistributed more than 28,000 nappies.

“A lot of the women who leave abusive partners take their child’s toy and that is it. They don’t even take their underwear or a toothbrush,” Jacobs said.

“When you are running away from your partner, you aren’t going to lug a box of nappies with you.”

A financial adviser, Jacobs says the idea to launch a nappy collective came to her after she discovered a handful of nappies at home that her three-year-old daughter had outgrown. She wondered how many other people had leftover nappies lying around and posted a “shout out” on Facebook.

Over two weeks last October, Jacobs collected 1500 nappies, which she donated to McAuley Community Services for Women, an organisation that runs Victoria’s only round-the-clock women’s shelter.

“Families living on limited budgets often go without food in order to afford nappies. [Some] parents will leave babies in nappies for days causing subsequent health issues,” Jacobs says.

“The concept is simple. If we can take one thing away that parents have to worry about, then they have the money and mental capacity to focus on something else that might help them advance.”

Last year’s small-scale social media campaign galvanised community support. Jacobs received more than 20 emails a day from people wanting to get involved.

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Over two weeks in March, her organisation collected 26,500 nappies at 20 drop-off locations in Sydney and Melbourne. They redistributed the nappies to 15 shelters.

The Nappy Collective has since expanded into Queensland and Western Australia ahead of its July collection drive, with South Australia and ACT coming on board in October.

Although rapid growth in just eight months was not Jacobs’ initial plan, she has been “riding the momentum”. The cause has struck a chord with those who take for granted being able to afford necessities like nappies.

“People want to help and this is a great opportunity for people to be able to give back in a non-monetary way and to make a difference.”

Jocelyn Bignold, the chief executive of McAuley Community Services for Women, said that a third of the children passing through the Catholic organisation's refuges were babies or toddlers and the redistributed nappies “immediately alleviate” women’s worries about providing for their children.

“The nappies are a vital, essential service.”

Family violence in Victoria has reportedly increased by 40 per cent in the past two years.

Each weekend more than 150 women and children seek refuge from abusive partners in crisis accommodation across the state. Even more are hiding out in motel rooms paid for in advance by domestic violence services.

For information on donating nappies or becoming a collection site visit  thenappycollective.com.