Kelly Paparella has known there was a need for her group's services for more than a year.

On Saturday, that need showed itself.

Families and foster parents in need representing 275 babies turned out to Calvary Baptist Church for a diaper distribution event organized by the Diaper Bank of the Ozarks. More than 15,000 diapers, 300 diaper bags and 7,500 wipes were handed out in the direct event — a first for the bank.

"This year, we had the opportunity for a proof of concept," said Paparella, program director. "We know the need is there. Now we're working on how we establish something that is long term."

Events such as Saturday's are not the bank's usual method of distribution. The bank, which covers more than 55 counties across the region, has been working on establishing an affiliate for distributing diapers since last year, but it has struggled to find such an affiliate.

Paparella said that the COVID-19 pandemic and related economic issues have altered the group's normal distribution methods, with some agencies being crippled or unable to operate as usual. Priced at $60 to $80 a month, many have to make a choice between buying food or diapers, according to a news release.

But the need for diapers across the area has not changed. About 33 percent of families across the country struggle to afford diapers, which are not supported by government assistance programs.

Paparella said she was stunned to learn that a city as big as Joplin had no diaper programs for families in need. The bank continues to search for a partner as a distribution site. Paparella hopes to develop something further with Calvary Baptist and develop a partnership with health departments, domestic violence shelters and other entities.

"We are looking for agencies to step forward and help us grow this program," Paparella said. "Diaper Bank of the Ozarks wants to be in Joplin."

Another similar event is being planned for the fall. Information about the bank is available at diaperbankoftheozarks.org.

Joe Hadsall is the digital editor for The Joplin Globe. He has been the editor of the former Nixa News-Enterprise and has worked for the Christian County Headliner News and 417 Magazine.