Kaileigh Westermann-Lewis sews cloth diapers at her Salem home on Feb. 9 (Ron Cooper/Salem Reporter)
A closet in the attic of a Salem home contains shelves packed with cloth diapers, inserts and wipes. Organizers of the Salem Cloth Project are ready to give these supplies away to families in need.
The Salem Cloth Project is the brainchild of Kaileigh Westermann-Lewis. When she had her first child two and a half years ago, she chose cloth diapers.
Westermann-Lewis works in the environmental department for the city of Keizer, and she studied the statistics regarding disposable diapers.
"The stat I often give is that in Marion County, 11 thousand tons of disposable diapers are thrown away every year," she said. Making and shipping the diapers takes resources too, she said.
It took time for Westermann-Lewis to learn how to use cloth diapers, but in time, she considered herself a mentor. And at the same time, she joined a local "buy nothing" Facebook group, and she noticed families asking for donations of both food and diapers.
An idea formed.
"I wanted to do cloth diapers for environmental reasons, and I had never considered the financial savings as much. But as soon as I saw people asking for resources, it clicked in my mind," she said.
Disposable diapers for one child from birth through toilet training can cost more than $2,000. Cloth diapers cost about $500, Westermann-Lewis said, and they can be used over and over again.
"I thought this could really help people if we could give them the resources, then they could save money and not worry about diapers. Maybe that would help them to purchase food or other things they might need," she said.
In June of 2019, Westermann-Lewis and two other local women signed nonprofit paperwork. They opened an online shop stocking reusable products.
Westermann-Lewis sews many of the items available in the shop, but she doesn't sew diapers. She buys them from reputable businesses, using the funds from sales in her shop. A 2019 grant from the Department of Environmental Quality for $15,070 helps too.
Now, the team has a large stash of diapers that could help about 100 families. Applications start the process, and families describe why the diapers could help them.
One woman wrote, "I am so thankful to have found this option during this pandemic. I can’t express the relief it’s been to know that I can take care of a basic need for my baby."
Another wrote, "These diapers would be such a blessing so that we can take care of our baby best and reduce waste. It would also really help us by taking some of the financial strain of diaper buying as we don’t make a lot of money."
The Salem Cloth Project is a needs-based organization, and the group prioritizes applications to help families that are struggling. But kits are also appropriate for families interested in exploring cloth diapers but unsure if the expense is worthwhile.
When an application is approved, families get a kit with cloth diapers, wipes, and other essentials. Each family must also go through a training session with the team to learn how to both use and clean the diapers.
"If you've never seen current cloth diapers, you probably think they are pinned and old school. They are not. They are cute, they are functional, and they are much more high-tech than the cloth diapers your parents used," she said.
Westermann-Lewis is looking for volunteers with sewing experience to make the diapers last even longer.
"I'd love to have volunteers repair cloth diapers. They're sturdy and they last a long time, but sometimes the elastic wears out. I'd love to give them a second life," she said.
Donations to the program are also welcome. Purchase reusable products or make direct donations on the organization's website.
Word-of-mouth assistance helps too.
"We're small and not a whole lot of people know about us. The biggest way to help is to share and help people know that we exist," she said.