Share Our Spare is striving to donate one million diapers to Chicago’s families living in poverty within the next three years. Behind this goal is Executive Director Anne Assenmacher who has been working with Share Our Spare to provide living essentials to children living under the poverty line. In 2010, she left her career in the corporate world and felt led to pursue a different path to impact the lives of children and families living in poverty.
Assenmacher talks about her involvement with the nonprofit and goals for the future:
How did you get involved with Share Our Spare?
I heard about it when my family and I came back to Chicago from Los Angeles, and it felt like serendipity when I kept running into a number of people all over Chicago who happened to be connected with Share Our Spare.
My undergraduate degree is actually in finance, and I spent the first 10 years of my career in what I call my “capitalist” years. In 2010, I got a fellowship at DePaul University for a fully funded master’s program in Women’s and Gender Studies. I completely pivoted from my undergraduate to an issue that I really cared about. My early intentions were to get involved in policy work and related issues that supported working mothers, specifically those lower on the economic spectrum.
What’s the biggest frustration you’ve run into?
We are doing critical work through the community, and we are always hustling to ask for money. We have to raise all of our own money to pay for warehousing, rent, utilities, staff and insurance. That’s the hardest part of the job, that you are always worrying about money and always asking for money to do something that should otherwise be provided.
It’s so simple: It’s just being able to provide for myself and my family through something I care about. It has entirely opened my eyes to different ways people struggle to survive— the struggle to provide for their children, to buy clothing and food and to go to the doctor. It helps grow a compassionate heart in the sense of my own privilege.
What are some goals for the future of Share Our Spare?
When I joined the organization, I did site visits to all of our agency partners and what we learned was shocking to us. In almost all cases, we were the only organization that provided these supplies for free. This inspired us to grow and scale up our operation knowing that there are so many families that have children need our help. If we are not here, there is no one else.
We have a three-year plan to grow into Chicago’s lead diaper bank. Our goal is to donate a million diapers a year in the next three years, and that would double our growth. It still won’t be enough, but it will be closer to where we need to be
How do you usually obtain funding for your work?
We hold a gala each year and we raise most of our budget—I would say historically about 75% of our budget is raised from individual donors and corporations who attend.
Is there anything else you would like to share about your work?
Most people don’t realize that one in three children in Chicago lives below the settled poverty line. There are a lot of organizations that are trying to help, but no one does what we do. It’s urgent, and it’s critical because we know that when children experience trauma when they are young, it can have long-lasting implications.
When children are hungry with not enough food, or when they are left in a dirty diaper for a long time, mothers are affected from the stress and the strain of not being able to care for their children. It’s more than just giving away free stuff. The idea is that we want to be there to make sure that every child has what they need to survive.
This piece has been edited for clarity.