PLAIN CITY, Ohio (AP) — Kayla Smith favors the Luvs brand of diapers — the baby-powder scent, in particular.
In this June 27, 2017, photo, Kayla Smith, 11, poses for a photo at the Jerome United Methodist Church in Plain City, Ohio. Smith collects thousands of diapers each year as part of the Diaper Angels program at the church. (Barbara J. Perenic/The Columbus Dispatch via AP)
The aroma fills the dank cellar of Jerome United Methodist Church in Plain City, where dozens of colorful boxes of diapers pack fill free-standing black shelves.
"The basement smells bad," said Kayla, 11, "but they make it smell good."
For the past two years, Kayla and her mother, Amy, have spearheaded the Diaper Angels ministry at the church.
In early 2015, a friend of Amy Smith's received an email from the Huggies brand with a message about diaper donation banks, prompting the friend to start a charity. After the woman's infant son began consuming more of her time, Amy Smith stepped in as volunteer in chief.
Now, the church basement houses 10,000 to 15,000 diapers in all sizes, brands and scents.
Amy Smith and Kayla place a donation box at church, host diaper drives and recruit church volunteers to help organize and package the products. They then drive the pastel-colored packs to a food bank or an outreach program.
And every three months, about 25 volunteers from Diaper Angels bundle packs of 25 diapers with baby wipes to take to the First Birthday Party program at the United Methodist Church for All People on the South Side. Volunteers hold babies and hand out brown paper bags decorated with a "Happy Birthday" sticker.
Smith, 39, said she was taken aback to learn how some lower-income mothers are working to manage the high cost of diapers.
"Everyone knows diapers are expensive," she said, "but I didn't realize people were reusing diapers."
Because most child-care centers don't accept infants unless parents or guardians can provide a day's supply of diapers, some parents have told her that they wash the disposable diapers to stretch a box further.
But the babies often pay the price — in the form of severe diaper rash.
"You feel for these newborns," Amy Smith said. "They don't know any better, and they struggle. I still get chills when I think about how heartbreaking it is."
Diapers aren't included in the federally funded Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (commonly known as WIC) — which provides infant essentials, such as formula — so the $500 average annual per-child cost of diapers can prove prohibitive.
Amy Smith and her husband, Tim, who works in information technology for L Brands, have felt the financial drain of diapering a baby, but "there was never a time where I thought (that) I couldn't run to the store."
Even before becoming Jerome's head pastor four months ago, the Rev. David Bridgman had witnessed the impact of Diaper Angels.
"Sometimes people can't hear the story of God's love in Jesus unless they can feed and clothe and diaper their family," he said. "This ministry opens up the doors for somebody to experience and feel God's love for other people."
Having spent several years volunteering as a referee for the church's Upward basketball league, Bridgman saw many of the 400-plus children who participated in the program (or the corresponding cheerleading program) drop off diapers at the end of the season.
"It provides a very tangible way for families to help," he said. "I know it's hard for suburban families to grasp sometimes because they can just go to the store and buy diapers."
Diaper Angels is a member of the National Diaper Bank of more than 300 diaper-collecting groups. Only the largest groups receive corporate donations — trucks of diapers from Huggies, for instance. The Smiths hope to one day expand the reach of Diaper Angels enough to draw from the bank donations.
Until then, the group's largest drives have stemmed from a personal sacrifice by Kayla Smith. For the past two years, the only child — a rising sixth-grader at Creekview Intermediate School in Marysville, where she and her parents live — has asked that, instead of giving her birthday presents, friends and family (and others) donate diapers for Diaper Angels.
Her mother posted a video on her Facebook page last year, hoping to collect 5,000 diapers for Kayla's 10th birthday on Feb. 23.
More than twice that number — 12,000 — rolled in.
UPS stopped by daily for a month to deliver packages from 20 states. The donation bin at church couldn't be contained.
"We kept looking in the box, and it was overflowing," Kayla said. "That was like the best birthday ever."
This year, Kayla received 16,000 diapers.
The extent of the need isn't likely to diminish soon.
Amy Smith receives regular text messages from the Plain City Food Pantry and the Hope Center in Marysville when diaper supplies run low. Most families receive just a day's worth of diapers, and certain sizes — 5 and 6, for children 1 to 3 years old — are always in short supply.
A recent $1,000 grant from United Methodist Community Ministries will allow them to buy in bulk, but the need will inevitably exceed the supply.
"That's the most difficult part for me," Amy Smith said. "I feel like we're just barely grazing the surface."
Undaunted, Kayla will continue doing her part to keep the bottoms of central Ohio babies smooth and dry, she said.
"I think I'm going to do a lot more birthdays throughout the years."