Essex resident Jason Fitzgerald began leading a diaper drive for the Committee on Temporary Shelter

Jason Fitzgerald began leading a diaper drive for the Committee on Temporary Shelter a decade ago.

A band of fifth-graders at Malletts Bay School are calling on the community for diaper donations, hoping to collect a whopping 500 pounds of the baby basics for the Committee on Temporary Shelter by December 18.

“We decided it was just a nice thing to do for our community because homeless people need to spend their money on food and clothes,” MBS student Beatrice Melo said. “We’re really excited about it, [and] we’ve been working really hard.”

School counselor Luba Routsong introduced her students to the idea just before Thanksgiving. She heard about the fundraiser from Jason Fitzgerald, an Essex resident who has run a massive diaper drive through Dee’s Physical Therapy for 10 years now.

“The kids just loved the idea,” Routsong said, noting the students have led all the work. “They’re also learning about giving and fundraising and how much work goes into it.”

Fitzgerald paid a visit to MBS at the start of their drive to explain why the drive was so important and what originally inspired him to tackle the project.

“Diapers are expensive and, if you have kids, everybody needs them,” Fitzgerald remembers thinking during a morning run a decade ago. “Maybe that’s an idea.”

He approached COTS and learned no current diaper drives existed, despite serious need for the supplies. National Geographic estimates an American baby will wear nearly 3,800 diapers in their early lives.

A diaper shortage in a homeless family, Fitzgerald said, may mean parents limit daily changes or struggle to set aside money for things like rent or food. The program established through COTS, thanks to the drive, allows families to receive free diapers for a year.

“There are so many amazing fundraisers out right now, so many people doing amazing things,” Fitzgerald said. “But I wanted to try and do something different.”

The first year, Dee’s collected about 6,000 diapers and worked with COTS to distribute them to neighbors in need. Ten years later, the projected total is nearly 360,000 — 80,000 of which will likely be gathered this year alone, Fitzgerald said.

“It’s amazing how much it’s become a community event,” Fitzgerald said. “It’s brought light to a huge demand and need. The fact that these young people want to get involved says a lot about their character.”

Fitzgerald said he asked the MBS fifth-graders to describe what a homeless person looks like. After, he reminded them it’s not always so obvious — even kids they go to school with might be experiencing homelessness without anyone knowing, he said.

“They understand that it’s not just giving diapers, it’s helping get to the goal of having a home,” Routsong said. “In that, it’s somewhat sustainable.”

Since Fitzgerald’s visit, the Colchester kids have distributed an army of posters throughout the halls of MBS, directed a promotional video and made regular announcements over the intercom system.

Besides that, Beatrice said she’s worked to integrate the fundraiser into her daily conversations with friends and family. By Thursday morning, they’d collected about 10 boxes of diapers perched on a bench in the lobby.

“It’s like Ms. Routsong says: ‘Do what you must, just get diapers!’” she said. “It’s kind of been crazy from there.”

Community members can drop of diapers in the Malletts Bay School lobby until December 18 or at any Dee’s Physical Therapy location.