2014 Grants Challenge

Breaking the Poverty Cycle in Los Angeles & Creating Better Childhoods for Kids in Need

Idea by Baby Buggy

We offer a mechanism to provide for the immediate needs of a child living in poverty while helping families become self-sufficient.


Please describe yourself.

Collaboration (partners are signed up and ready to hit the ground running!)

In one sentence, please describe your idea or project.

Baby Buggy provides families in need with essential children's gear and products as incentive to participate in anti-poverty programs.

Does your project impact Los Angeles County?

Yes (benefits a population of LA County)

Which area(s) of LA does your project benefit?

Central LA

East LA

South LA

San Gabriel Valley

San Fernando Valley

South Bay

What is your idea/project in more detail?

Today, nearly one quarter of children living in Los Angeles live in poverty. This rate is higher than the child poverty rate for California and the U.S. as a whole. A lack of access to basic needs presents significant health and safety concerns for children, but poverty can also have lasting adverse effects on a child’s mental and social development. Our goal is to give low-income families in LA access to free critical items that will improve a child’s health, well-being and safety as incentives to participate in programs that will simultaneously help to lift them out of poverty. In doing so, we provide for the immediate needs of a child while giving families the necessary long-term support to improve their financial situation.

What will you do to implement this idea/project?

We will implement this project through a four-pronged approach, 1) scale up a network of community-based organizations (CBOs) that directly serve target populations, 2) cultivate partnerships with aligned corporations to secure critical gear for families in need, 3) work with communities to “recycle” gently used items, and 3) tailor donations to specific needs.

Baby Buggy has operated in New York for 13 years using this proven approach. Recently, the organization merged with LA Diaper Drive, the nation’s largest diaper bank, to expand its efforts into LA to serve one of America’s most vulnerable cities. Though we currently work with several CBOs in LA, we will scale up a network of organizations that are concentrated in low-income neighborhoods and offer programs designed to give individuals the skills necessary to become self-sufficient. These programs include job skills training, GED prep, and financial literacy classes. With additional resources, we would have the capacity to more actively secure CBOs that meet our standards, while closely monitoring these anti-poverty programs.

Secondly, we will cultivate relationships with product manufacturers to secure critical gear. Using our NY program as a model, we will communicate needs to corporate representatives to funnel excess inventory through LA, thereby saving on shipping costs, or in unique cases, secure a non-profit discount to purchase product at cost. Baby Buggy will also provide a mechanism for the community to recycle items their child has outgrown. We will work with local businesses to operate as “drop off sites,” where individuals can donate gently used items in exchange for a tax deduction.

Lastly, we will tailor donations specific to an agency’s needs so that items are instrumental in increasing parental participation. Nearly all of our CBO partners in NY report that using donated items as incentives helps them leverage the impact of their programs. One partner found, for example, that they were able to increase the number of families accessing their services by 26% simply by providing a free pack of diapers to those who came in for benefits screenings. Once an individual gets in the door, they are then more likely to feel empowered to change their situation. We plan to do quarterly check-ins with these organizations to take an inventory of their needs, with a goal of fulfilling at least 60% of requests by end of year one. Our NY counterpart currently achieves an 84% success rate.

How will your idea/project help make LA the best place to LIVE today? In 2050?

We believe our initiative will help to make LA the healthiest place to live by 1) improving the health and safety of children living in poverty in LA, 2) lowering the prevalence of children impacted by adverse childhood experiences, and 3) lowering the number of households living below the self-sufficiency standard by offering resources that help to halt the cycle of poverty.

First, our idea will improve the health and safety of children living in low-income households by providing parents with resources to safeguard a child from harm. Families cannot purchase items such as diapers, strollers, or cribs with food stamps, so children living in poverty often lack access to basic needs. Children without a crib often sleep in drawers or between parents or can be strapped into a car seat not designed to fit their size; both can lead to severe injury or death. Meanwhile, when a parent cannot afford diapers—an adequate supply costs roughly $100 or more per month—they report keeping infants in a single diaper for a day or longer. This can lead to infection and hygiene issues, while putting children at risk for social, emotional, and behavioral problems down the line.

Our initiative is also structured to lower the prevalence of children whose lives are impacted by adverse childhood experiences. When a single mother has basic needs met, she is more likely to leave an abusive relationship or avoid incarceration, which ultimately impact her children. In the same right, research shows that when a father can provide for a child, he’s more likely to have greater access to his child and play a greater role in his/her life. Aside from basic infant needs, our model also supports healthy child development by giving children tools like books and school supplies to get the most from their education.

Lastly, our initiative helps to lower the number of households living below the self-sufficiency standard, today and by 2050, by giving families resources to halt the cycle of poverty. For instance, most daycare centers require a week’s worth of diapers for enrollment. If a parent cannot afford a week of diapers, they may not be able to enroll their child in daycare, and thereby cannot work to support their family. Eventually, their children join the poverty cycle. We not only meet immediate needs to help families succeed, but also support long-term goals through life-improving programs.

Whom will your project benefit?

Through a network of carefully selected CBOs, we will aim to benefit low-income families with children who live in LA’s most challenged neighborhoods. Neighborhoods of focus include East LA (Boyle Heights), San Fernando Valley (North Hollywood, Pacoima, Panorama City, Sunland), San Gabriel Valley (Alhamabra, El Monte, Glendale, and Pasadena), South Central (Jefferson Park, Watts), and parts of Central LA (Downtown and Hollywood) and South Bay (Inglewood, Torrance). We serve a large population of single and first-time mothers, predominantly from Latino and African American communities. We also serve refugee children from Iraq, Somalia and Afghanistan through a partnership with the Tiyya Foundation. Here is a snapshot of the children, parents and families we serve:

43% are single mothers

30% are homeless or live in a shelter

27% of the children have special needs

21% live below the federal poverty line of $22,350 for a family of 4

25% are working poor

12% are domestic violence survivors

Please identify any partners or collaborators who will work with you on this project.

It is inherent to our mission to collaborate with other non-profit organizations in LA to achieve our goals. While our goal is to expand our network, we currently collaborate with organizations such as Children’s Institute International (CII), Tiyya Foundation, Nurse-Family Partnership, and Black Infant Health to operate life-improving programs that meet our goals of helping low-income families become more self-sufficient. Through our partnership, we offer incentives to increase participation in these programs and classes. We also recently merged with LA Diaper Drive, an organization founded in LA in 2005, to expand our resources and deepen our impact in the LA community.

Here are three factors that are critical to the success of our collaboration:

Factor #1 - Highly effective programs: In order for us to be successful in achieving our objectives, partners need to have highly functioning and independent programs in place to support individuals in improving their life situations. These programs must be run by trained and educated individuals who have experience dealing with the economic issues that plague these communities.

Factor #2 - Donated items: To improve the health, safety and well-being of children living in poverty, and in turn, the sustainability of our partners’ services, we need to have access to essential gear, products and services that will positively impact the lives of children and families we serve.

Factor #3: - Communication: Because we are not working directly with the individuals we serve, it is imperative that we have an open and reciprocal line of communication with partner CBOs. We must respond to their needs in a timely fashion, and they must strongly communicate the impact of our donations so we can continue to obtain items from generous corporations, retailers, and individuals.

How will your project impact the LA2050 LIVE metrics?

Number of households below the self-sufficiency standard

Prevalence of adverse childhood experience (Dream Metric)

Please elaborate on how your project will impact the above metrics.

Our initiative helps to lower the number of households living below the self-sufficiency standard, today and in the future, by giving families resources to break the poverty cycle. It costs almost two hours of minimum wage in LA to afford a pack of diapers. When we provide critical needs like diapers, we help families put their income toward groceries, electric bills, and other necessary household expenditures. We also give parents the security to better provide for their families. In the long-term, we offer them the tools and skills training to succeed through engagement in anti-poverty programs.

Baby Buggy will also help to lower the prevalence of children whose lives are impacted by adverse childhood experiences through opportunity creation. As previously outlined, when a single mother has basic needs met, she is more likely to leave an abusive relationship or avoid incarceration, which ultimately impact her children and their futures. Our program also makes it possible for fathers to play a greater role in their child’s life by helping them to be better providers. In addition, we go beyond basic infant needs to support healthy child development. Baby Buggy provides books, school supplies and educational toys to improve a child’s educational experience, from the minute they are born through adolescence.

Please explain how you will evaluate your project.

Metric #1 - The number of children and families served: With each pick-up or distribution of goods, we will survey partner CBOs to measure the number of children and families that are served by that particular donation. Because a majority of items donated are requested based on real-time need, partner sites will have a strong understanding of this number. At the end of the calendar year, we do an annual survey to obtain annual summary data on the children and families served for each partner site.

Metric #2 - Increase in participation among partner CBOs tied to critical need donations: We will work with case workers and program managers to demonstrate an increase in the rate of participation tied to using essential items as a “reward.” We will work with CBO partners to measure 1) new individuals who are referred to classes and programs after receiving a donation as an incentive and 2) additional services and programs accessed by existing clients that can be attributed to receipt of donated items. Partner CBOs are asked to collect this data on an ongoing basis and report at the end of the year through the annual survey.

Metric #3 - Percentage of specific needs fulfilled: We will also measure our success based on the percentage of needs that we are able to fulfill on an annual basis. Our programs coordinator will ask partner CBOs to submit specific needs-based requests customized to the specific clients they serve and we will strive to fulfill those needs within 90 days. Once the request is fulfilled, we ask them to submit or update their needs requests as new individuals and families enter the program and enroll in services. At the end of the year, we assess what percentage of requested items was ultimately fulfilled and what was outstanding. The latter also provides us with important data for future program improvement.

What two lessons have informed your solution or project?

Lesson #1 - Handouts only serve as band-aids: While emergency services are necessary and a component of the Baby Buggy model, research shows that giving a good or service away without anything in exchange—in this case, their participation—lessens the value of that good or service and can even fuel the poverty cycle. On the other hand, while a good or service may initially be the reason an individual gets in the door, CBOs report that these parents are more likely to continue due to a feeling of empowerment or accomplishment. The goal of our program is to directly impact the growing rate of children living in poverty in LA by instilling self-worth and supporting self-sufficiency.

Lesson #2 - A lack of access to essential gear has been shown to have lasting adverse effects on children: Reports show that children whose basic needs are not met are at a higher risk for social, emotional and behavioral problems. Low-income families report being forced to potty train their children way before they are developmentally ready in order to save money. In the same regard, children who lack a comfortable and safe environment to sleep can experience early childhood trauma. This type of child neglect can damage a child’s self-worth, their ability to have healthy relationships, and ability to function at home, work or school. In turn, this affects society as a whole.

Explain how implementing your project within the next twelve months is an achievable goal.

We have a unique advantage in that implementing our program will not require a great deal of research or testing to successfully start achieving our goal. Our scalable model has been tried and tested over the course of 13 years by our NY operation, with more than 7.3 million items donated since the organization’s inception. This has afforded us the ability to test strategies, learn from mistakes, and build on successes to adapt accordingly. By working with an existing framework, we also have systems and policies and procedures in place that can take an organization six months to a year to build. Nonetheless, scaling an existing program in a new market or region also comes with new challenges. To overcome some of these barriers, Baby Buggy merged with LA Diaper Drive, an organization created to meet the growing number of parents in LA who are struggling to provide diapers for their babies. LA Diaper Drive shared a similar mission as Baby Buggy, using diapers as an incentive for parent participation in proven anti-poverty programs. By joining forces, we now have access to more resources, space, and support on the ground to start achieving our goals within 12 months.

Operations: We now have a physical work place for basic operations, storage, and technical support. This space also serves as a “drop off site” for individuals to donate their gently used items, as well as a professional environment to host volunteer activities and meetings.

Corporate Relationships: Our NY operation has built a strong credibility among corporations, giving us access to potential gift-in-kind donors. While they have primarily focused on east coast operations, our research shows that many of these corporations have satellite offices or distribution centers located in California. These include major corporate donors like Summer Infant, Million Dollar Baby, Diaper Dude, MD Moms, and Daddy & Co.

Volunteers: Volunteerism is a vital pillar of our operation, as Baby Buggy was created as a mechanism for people to give back to their neighbors in need. As a lean operation, volunteers are imperative to our success in vetting, sorting, cleaning, and packaging donated items such as books, clothing, toys, and diapers, to get them ready for distribution. With the additional resources and staffing, we have the capacity and physical space to host organized activities in the LA region to speed up item distribution and clear our storage to accommodate new items.

Please list at least two major barriers/challenges you anticipate. What is your strategy for ensuring a successful implementation?

Barrier #1 - Access to affordable storage that meets our needs: As an organization driven by distribution of tangible goods, we require a physical space that can accommodate small and large incoming donations, as well as monthly inventory. This space also has to be centralized with drive-up access to limit the workload for representatives from CBOs that are picking up donated items. Unfortunately, storage that is accessible and meets our needs in a city as widespread as LA is difficult to come by and often expensive, thereby presenting a potential barrier for our program. For the interim, we have secured warehouse space in Valencia, Calif. at a 50% discounted rate for larger deliveries and have access to moving trucks when CBOs have difficulty arranging transportation for scheduled pick-ups. We have also secured two (2) 10 X 30 units in Glendale, Calif. for smaller deliveries and shipments that also offer drive-up access. However, we plan to reconcile this by partnering with an existing CBO to rent shared warehouse space that can accommodate small and large deliveries in or just north of downtown LA. This will help us to lower costs and work efficiently with our partner CBOs. We have already researched potential partners to make this transition by the end of 2014.

Barrier #2 - Monitoring incentives: While we can closely monitor programs administered at partner CBOs, it is a much bigger challenge to ensure that donated items are solely used as incentives. Because we are not on-site, the information we obtain is only as accurate as what is reported to us. While there is no foolproof solution, we will hold our liaisons accountable through quarterly site visits to gauge program efficiency, improvement, and/or changes, as well as bi-monthly check-ins and annual surveys.