TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Sharon Lyles couldn’t help but be a little leery at first.
Lyles, the president of the Central Florida Diaper Bank, last week was scrambling to meet a surge of demand for diapers in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic when she received the kind of email she doesn’t usually get.
It was from Florida Citrus Sports, the organization responsible for the Citrus Bowl and the Camping World Kickoff, among other events, and it contained some welcome good news at a time when the diaper bank needed it most:
FCS, on behalf of Florida State football coach Mike Norvell, was making a generous financial donation to the diaper bank, one that could help thousands of families provide for their young children.
“You don’t get those types of emails every day,” Lyles said.
Across the state in Panama City, Lauren Presser, President-Elect of the Panama City Junior League, received a similar message.
That FCS, on behalf of Norvell, would be making a donation to the junior league’s diaper bank as well.
All told, Florida Citrus Sports committed $5,000 to be split evenly between the two diaper banks.
That’s enough for more than 180,000 diapers across the Panhandle and central Florida.
“I was very shocked,” said Presser, whose organization serves a six-county area.
“For us, this money goes a long way — $2,500 can be extended to almost double when we bulk buy as a nonprofit. And that really helps other people.”
Florida Citrus Sports made the donation as a “Thank you” to Norvell, who appeared on a football-focused videoconference with FCS members earlier this month.
Norvell, though, was able to choose which organization received that support. And, with his five-year-old daughter Mila in mind, he decided to get behind a cause that, quite frankly, could use a little more publicity right now.
“There are so many families that struggle to provide all the resources that are essential for their young children,” Norvell said. “The diaper banks are fulfilling a fundamental need in their communities, and I’m grateful for the opportunity to help them make this impact in our Big Bend area and in Central Florida.”
“The fact that was near and dear to Coach’s heart, it was just a natural for us to partner with him,” added Steve Hogan, chief executive officer of Florida Citrus Sports.
“Through Coach’s idea, we were able to partner with them, and it sounds like a lot of people are going to benefit from it that otherwise wouldn’t have. We feel very blessed that he thought of it. We just couldn’t wait to help join him to do it.”
According to the National Diaper Bank Network, one out of every three families in the U.S. experience an unmet need for diapers.
And that need has only been magnified by the COVID-19 outbreak.
Images of empty store shelves and runs on essential items such as toilet paper and soap flooded news broadcasts and social media during the pandemic’s first few weeks.
For families with babies and toddlers, diapers are no less essential. Or any easier to find.
And parents who were either laid off or furloughed as a result of the virus must also tackle how to pay for those diapers. The state of Florida announced last week that it had received approximately 850,000 applications for unemployment assistance.
Other government aid initiatives, such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) or the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), typically do not provide for diapers.
“A lot of people have lost their jobs due to COVID-19,” Lyles said. “They’re having to ask can I pay my rent? They probably can’t. People are having a hard time meeting basic needs, and this is one of them.”
Each diaper bank – in central Florida and in Panama City – will use Norvell’s donation to meet a specific challenge.
Orlando’s tourism and hospitality industry has been hit hard, with theme parks, hotels and restaurants all being forced to close or significantly reduce operations.
The Florida Panhandle, meanwhile, is still recovering from the devastation left by Hurricane Michael less than two years ago.
“When that happened, there was obviously a need and we busted our butts to meet it,” Presser said. “But that also meant that we exhausted all of our financial resources in the relief of Hurricane Michael.”
The COVID-19 pandemic has only added stress to those resources. Presser said that her diaper bank had recently started putting limits on their diaper availability in an effort to conserve and, in Orlando, Lyles launched a GoFundMe page in an attempt to bolster their efforts.
Both diaper banks have a big boost on the way.
“For us, it’s even more humbling because it’s kind of an intervention,” Presser said. “We really need this money right now to go to this program.”
“This is going to make a lot of parents very happy,” Lyles added.
The financial support, of course, is the biggest and most tangible thing.
But those who work with the diaper banks are just as thrilled that Norvell chose to shine such a bright spotlight on their cause.
“I think that’s the part that makes me really emotional about it,” Presser said. “It’s very heartfelt. To have somebody like him understand and bring attention to an issue that other people are advocating for is really important. It really shows his depth of character.
“I’ve never met him. But I think it would really show who he is as a person, and not just as a coach.”