AURORA | The pandemic is new territory for daycare businesses like Little Angels Daycare, run by local childcare fixtures Frank and Gigi Omair near the intersection of South Abilene Street and East Exposition Avenue.
Little Angels is still open for children of “essential” workers chasing paychecks. But this week, the daycare’s storage space became the territory of a massive federal emergency supply shipment of diapers, wipes and baby formula intended for low-income Aurora families without access to the childcare essentials.
The shipment is slated to arrive Tuesday and include about 90,000 diapers, 1,200 baby formula containers and 1,260 packs of diaper wipes — Arapahoe County’s piece of a $3 million shipment of baby supplies Colorado received from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA.
All Aurora families, plus all residents of Elbert and Adams counties, will be able to pick up free baby supplies this week. Little Angels will also become a kind of regional distribution hub for other daycare centers in the region, who will distribute the diapers, wipes and formula to the families they serve.
People in need can visit the Arapahoe County Early Childhood Council website to learn more and see when the supplies will be available at www.acecc.org.
Frank said Little Angels and the supplies are much-needed.
When the pandemic began in March, diapers, wipes and formula became early casualties of doomsday hoarding alongside toilet paper and hand sanitizer. Grocery stores shelves became barren.
For the mostly low-income families Little Angels serves, that hoarding wasn’t an option, Frank said. He started to get calls from families asking for food and baby supplies, but his own supplies were limited.
Then, the statewide recession deepened. Many Aurora parents found themselves with no income at all. That left some families to trade items between themselves, said Gretchen Davidson, Executive Director of the Arapahoe County Early Childhood Council. Low-income families were at risk of reusing diapers on young children, which can lead to infections.
Davidson said that, even if families can buy diapers and formula in grocery store aisles, babies don’t like switching. Changing an infant’s formula can lead to digestive issues.
With the soaring demand, a FEMA shipment became necessary, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment said in a press release.
“We’ve never dealt with anything like this before,” Davidson said.
Arapahoe County Early Childhood Council coordinated the shipment for Adams County, also serving Aurora, and Elbert County. Scores of sites across the state will also get parts of the state’s FEMA shipment. Davidson said a second FEMA shipment could be slated for the Aurora area if the supplies go too quickly.
She expects her staff to dole out the shipment for two to three weeks until the pallets are empty once again.
While the shipments are much needed, Davidson is worried that daycare options are dwindling for Aurora’s essential workers who need them.
Frank Omair said most of the daycares around Little Angels shuttered during the pandemic, and their own daycare cohort on a given day dropped from near 150 children to just 25.
At the same time, nurses, pharmacists and workers themselves keeping grocery stores running still needed daycare for their children, Gigi Omair said.
Only through an Arapahoe County subsidy was Little Angels able to stay open with such low attendance. The county’s program is still funding the daycare as if all the usual children were still in the building every day.
In Arapahoe County, Davidson estimates 60 percent of the some 200 daycare centers and 220 childcare homes are still open.
She expects this will become a bigger problem as the economy reopens. Just like restaurants and other small businesses, the daycares still have to make their bottom lines, and the industry usually skates by on thin profit margins.
But as parents begin going back to work and searching for work, children will need a place to go, Davidson said.
“It’s not like a childcare just pops up,” she said.