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Washtenaw United: 'Community Baby Shower' gathers supplies and support for struggling new mothers

Susan Smith
United Way of Washtenaw County
Susan Smith

WEMU has partnered with the United Way of Washtenaw Countyto explore the people, organizations, and institutions creating opportunity and equity in our area. And, as part of this ongoing series, you’ll also hear from the people benefiting and growing from the investments being made in the areas of our community where there are gaps in available services. It is a community voice. It is 'Washtenaw United.'


Susan Smith currently serves as the VP of Development with United Way of Washtenaw County and an Eastern Michigan University Alumnus. Susan is a proud mom of two school-aged girls, and deeply enjoys the adventures of parenting alongside her husband. Serving the community continues to be the focus of her career and she could not imagine investing her time anywhere else.


David Fair: This is 89 one WEMU, and welcome to another edition of Washtenaw United. I'm David Fair, and through the end of the month, we have an opportunity to contribute to the well-being of new and struggling mothers in our area. A community baby shower has been up and running for about three weeks now and will continue through the end of the month. This is an effort organized by the United Way of Washtenaw County and its partners. And here to talk more about it is the organization's vice president of development, Susan Smith. Thank you so much for joining us, Susan.

Susan Smith: Thank you so much for having me on today, David.

David Fair: I know there is time left. How has the community responded to the supply drive so far?

Susan Smith: Well, we're always so amazed and so thankful for the community and support that we receive. We're getting packages in the mail. We are seeing our bins having things like onesies, baby clothes, pacifiers. And it's just so sweet to see these items, and it's so wonderful to see the care and the support that people are taking when they do go online to purchase a gift and have it shipped to United Way. And then, our local partners are also indicating and sharing that they've been receiving some wonderfully generous donations in their bins as well.

David Fair: Optimally, we would not have to have such a community baby shower, but fact of the matter is we do, and I want to dive into some of the research that shows us just how much need there is for new moms in Michigan and here in Washtenaw County. The ALICE Children in Focus report for 2020 to set off some alarms. First of all, ALICE stands for Asset Limited, Income Constrained and Employed. It shows that 44% of all children in Michigan are living in poverty. That's nearly 1 million kids. Because of the service-oriented work you do, I imagine this wasn't as shocking to you as it was perhaps for me and many of us.

Susan Smith: Yes. And so, one thing I want to share about that is when we talk about that statistic with, you know, more than a million kids or nearly a million who are living in ALICE households, their parents are working, or one parent, but they're still not bringing in enough income to afford all their basic needs. And so, that's about 27% of that number. Another 17% of that number are children who are living in poverty. And for people who are unaware, that poverty level has not moved much since the seventies, which is why we talk about ALICE. Because if we're still using the benchmark that delineates what poverty is from the seventies, that doesn't match up with the cost of living today.

David Fair: There are some geographical differences highlighted in the ALICE Report. For example, in Livingston County, there are 17% that are considered ALICE children. That's 84% in Detroit. The report also confirms tremendous racial disparities statewide. 71% of Black children and 58% of Hispanic children struggle just to make ends meet on any given day. That's compared to 36% of white children. Now, I know that there's a vast array of statistical data to analyze, but speaking anecdotally, is that what we're dealing with in Washtenaw County as well?

Susan Smith: Yes. And when we're looking at Washtenaw County and we're talking about the populations, the people we serve, it is disproportionate and the number of Black and Hispanic children that we're caring for, as opposed to, you know, white families and white children that were caring for just seems to impact those populations at a much higher rate than it does for the white families, for a variety of and equitable things that have occurred over the years.

David Fair: We're talking about the ongoing community baby shower in Washtenaw County and why it's necessary on WEMU's Washtenaw United. Susan, I remember being a new parent and feeling absolutely overwhelmed with buying all that's needed, from clothes and diapers to cribs and rockers and car seats. Then, when you have to start paying for daycare, it can be almost crippling. Now, you're a working mom. Has your personal experience informed the way you approach a community drive like this?

Susan Smith: Oh, absolutely. I distinctly remember the cost of these items. You know, having to purchase tires, formula, clothing, and as you'd purchase one size of diapers, guess what? You need a larger size now. And so, I recall during that time, I did have help from my parents and we're very fortunate that they were in a position to do so along with some of my extended family, my in-laws. And so, whenever things got tough, you know, I had somewhere to turn within my family group.

David Fair: That is not a luxury all too many can say they have.

Susan Smith: Exactly. Exactly. So, when I look at our community baby shower and I make a gift in support of that event, you know, I'm looking at the community as my extended family, you know, in a way for me to support, you know, parents who need that help, like I did or, you know, probably at this level, much more support than perhaps I did because of the resources that I had available to me as I was having my children.

David Fair: And going further down that path, I want to point out that this report and the figures released this year on analysis of the year 2019. That's pre-pandemic. So, it's a fair assumption that the COVID public health crisis has only exacerbated the problems without having the hard data that would be available with a more up-to-date report. Has the United Way seen an increase in demands for services and supplies in these areas?

Susan Smith: Yes, we have. And we're seeing that with our community partners.

David Fair: We're going through a period where inflation is spiking, the cost of food is spiraling upward, gas prices are approaching $5 a gallon, and some speculate it will one day hit $10 a gallon. Wages for low-income workers are not going up. That's a recipe that has the potential to move even more people toward or into poverty. Have you noticed more hesitancy among potential donors and community partners to give as we lived through these heightened anxieties?

Susan Smith: What I found is people are extremely generous. And when we're looking at giving, I'm seeing many people continue to give and give in support of the community, giving to the United Way, giving to other agencies. But I'm also seeing as many people who are giving to the greatest need that is being shared in media and within the news. And so, there's a lot of people who are seeing an issue and running right toward that issue and putting their resources behind it. What I always like to remind people of is sustainable funding, you know, and understanding that being able to be there year after year is what helps a lot of agencies and a lot of groups to have that reliable funding in order to continue to deliver these services. So, my message would be for people who are, you know, giving in in a position to give, please continue to do so. And, you know, we understand that it may be a little bit more challenging to give during these times. It continues to be incredibly important because of whatever pinch that, you know, a donor or a person who is giving may be feeling, that is likely magnified for the people who are in need of these services that your gift is funding.

David Fair: Washtenaw United and our conversation with Susan Smith continues on 89 one WEMU. Susan is vice president of development for the United Way of Washtenaw County. We know that baby formula is hard to find, almost impossible in some cases, and when you do find it, it's just that much more expensive. I doubt there's a lot of that to donate right now. What other supplies are being requested through this drive?
Susan Smith: So, people are looking at..they're sending up on our links on our registry. They can sign up for pacifiers, they can sign up for onesies, diapers, for thermostats, you know, different things that people need in order to care for their child. So, it's so many different things. I just encourage people to go on and check out the links that we have for the registry. It's really fun to just comb through and see all the different things that babies use these days.

David Fair: And what are the various options and ways we can participate? Because I know there's a number of locations that are helping out and a number of community partners.

Susan Smith: Yes, absolutely. So, a couple of different ways that people can give. It's through our online registry that are fun on our website at UW give dot org. We also have great partnerships with Bank Michigan, who has a branch on Eisenhower Parkway, Old National, and all the Reinhart Realtor locations. We also have a drop-off on the first floor of Washtenaw Community College's Student Welcome Center, and donations can be dropped off at any of these locations any time Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

David Fair: And for moms in need who may not be connected to some of the partners that would assist them normally, how are they to access the support provided through the community baby shower?

Susan Smith: I'd recommend them to call and get connected. The partners that we're currently working with is Destiny and Purpose Community Outreach, also known as DAPCO. We're working with Saline Area Social Services and SOS Community Services. They all have information on how to contact them on their website, and I'm certain any one of them would be happy to hear from people who may need support to set up ways that they may be able to provide that.

David Fair: How many years has the community baby shower been going on at this point?

Susan Smith: Oh, David, I've been with United Way for five years. This is my fifth season going through the community baby shower, and I can share that it has been going on for several years, even prior to me being part of United Way.

David Fair: Well, I would certainly hope that before you end up leaving the United Way of Washtenaw County, this is a service that is no longer necessary. But, as you have mentioned, I suspect that there are always going to be people in need, and we are always going to need to give a helping hand.

Susan Smith: Hey, I was just actually talking to a friend. It says people need help from time to time. And, you know, this is just one more opportunity and one more way that we can help, you know, our neighbors and friends and our community.

David Fair: Susan, thank you so much for the time today. I appreciate it.

Susan Smith: Yes. And, David, thank you so much. And a big thank you to, you know, our partners who are supporting this, your listeners who are inspired to give and support this. Thank you so much. It truly makes a tremendous difference. So, thank you so much.

David Fair: That is Susan Smith, vice president of development for the United Way of Washtenaw County, which is our content partner for these Washtenaw United conversations that you'll hear each Monday. For more information on the community baby shower in Washtenaw County, visit our website at WEMU dot org. I'm David Fair, and this is 89 one WEMU FM and WEMU HD one Ypsilanti.


Community Baby Shower

Destiny and Purpose Community Outreach (DAPCO)

SOS Community Services

Saline Area Social Service  

ALICE Report


The Community Baby Shower is an annual donation drive organized by United Way of Washtenaw County's Emerging Philanthropists group. During the month of May, community members are encouraged to donate diapers, clothes, wipes, and more. Those donations will be delivered to Destiny and Purpose Community Outreach (DAPCO), SOS Community Services, and Saline Area Social Service.

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Contact David: dfair@emich.edu
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