After two full weeks into our program, I am still trying to explore Durham as a Durham citizen, not a tourist or a Duke student. This week was full of novel experiences and of course greater understanding of Durham’s poverty and diaper needs.
The week began with investigating diaper pricing in different neighborhoods in Durham as part of the Diaper Bank of North Carolina’s ongoing research project. When I first read about the Diaper Bank, a small nonprofit organization, I was very surprised to find out it has published journals on how the Diaper Bank has impacted its beneficiaries by addressing families’ diaper needs. In the ongoing research project, the Diaper Bank wants to go a step further to understand factors that make diapers unaffordable to many families in Durham. After talking to many recipients of diapers, Michelle Old, the executive director of the Diaper Bank, began to formulate her own theory. Aside from unemployment, finance illiteracy and other common factors leading to poverty, poorer families are often further disadvantaged by higher average diaper prices. Since these families usually do not have cars and internet access, they are often limited to the diaper options within their neighborhood. That is to say, if big supermarkets are not available, they have to pay more to get diapers from mini-marts and smaller convenience stores. My job this summer is to gather real data for Michelle from all neighborhoods in Durham with a median household income below the 200% federal poverty line.
My supervisor and I needed to visit all stores in our target neighborhoods to record different prices of diapers. Initially, we went to stores to write down details of a pack of diapers and its corresponding price, but we later realized taking videos of diapers and their prices could save us more time. For customers and staff in a store, it then became “creepy” to see two people going to a shelf with diapers and taking videos of diapers! Many times, we had to explain to them we were doing this for research, and just like I did, people were surprised to know there are researches on diapers. Although we have not developed much quantitative analysis yet, our first-hand data has already proved some validity in Michelle’s theory. For example, the unit price of size 5 diapers in a big supermarket is 20 cents if people buy them in bulk, but the unit price of the same type of diapers can go up to 50 cents in a small convenience store.
In the middle of the week, the DukeEngage group also had the chance to watch a baseball game between Durham Bulls vs. Gwinnett Stripers. I knew baseball is a very popular and common sports in America, but I had never watched any baseball game before. When I just stepped into Durham Bulls Athletic Park, I knew nothing about baseball, and yet 10 minutes after the game started, I began to cheer with the crowd for a point added to the home team. Undoubtedly the irresistible atmosphere at the stadium turned me into a Durham Bull’s fan.
It’s already more than half a month since the start of this program, but I still feel I am new to Durham, new to many neighborhoods and exciting experiences in Durham. When I asked my co-worker about how to experience Durham like a Durham citizen, her answer was simple: “Visit every corner you have not been to.” Now I have left my footprints in many corners I didn’t have the chance to visit.