Websites appear that match people who have extra baby food on hand with familiesamid a severe national shortage in stores and online.
Those with baby food who don’t need them can sign up to donate the products, while parents and caregivers can register to ask for what they need. It’s the latest sloppy attempt by enterprising parents out to help each other.
Keiko Zoll of Swampscott, Massachusetts, launched The Free Formula Exchange, a nationwide mutual aid network, last week after listening to a podcast about the shortage and seeing reports of desperate parents seeking a formula. Zoll, a parent herself, also remembered the difficulty she had as a young mother finding certain products.
“It reminded me of me when I was that mom nine years ago and I was the mom of a preemie who needed a special formula,” she told CBS MoneyWatch. “It was really hard to find and very stressful, and that was at a time of plenty.”
“I couldn’t imagine being that preemie mom now and trying to find a special formula when no one can find the formula,” Zoll added.
How does the exchange work?
People looking for a formula can visit The Free Formula Exchange and register to request the products they need. People who have a formula can list the products they have in stock on the site. Both applicants and donors are visible to each other and make connections themselves.
“Each party has access to the other party’s database,” Zoll said. “It takes initiative from both parties – if you apply for a formula, you reach people who have the brand you’re looking for; if you’re a donor, you’re looking for someone who fits what you have.”
The site, which has been live since May 13, has received about 3,000 formula requests since its launch. Zoll estimates that the exchange currently accommodates about 300 of them.
“For every 10 requests, we only have one available person to donate. I want to reduce that ratio as much as possible and ideally would have a one-to-one ratio where each person who applies for a formula can connect with someone who has stock to donate,” she said.
Another website called Baby Formula Exchange, created by Olympic gymnast and mom, Shawn Johnson East, works the same way.
“My genius husband took an idea I had and brought it to life within 72 hours,” Johnson said in a video on Instagram after struggling to find a formula for her baby boy, Jett.
Someone in Johnson’s network saw the product she was looking for at a store in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and shipped it to Johnson East in Nashville, Tennessee, sparking the idea of an online exchange.
How did we get here?
There has been a baby food shortage since February, when Abbott Nutrition closed its largest formula production plant after consumers reported that four babies who had consumed products made at the facility had developed serious bacterial infections. Two of the babies subsequently died.
The closure of the Abbott plant exacerbated existing restrictions due to pandemic-related supply chains, and retailers began rationing supplies. A handful of companies dominate the market, while strict Food and Drug Administration standards make it difficult for foreign companies to sell formulas in the U.S.
Abbott said on Monday it had reached an agreement with the FDA that it hopes will enable the company† The FDA also wants to make it easier for foreign manufacturers to ship formulas to the US
Still, experts say it could take months for new stock to hit store shelves after production restarts at the Abbott plant. Meanwhile, pediatriciansor to dilute their offerings to make it last longer.
“The website is a simple solution to complex problems. It connects people who need a formula with people who have extra to donate,” Zoll said. “In the absence of additional supply on the market, there is at least a stopgap solution for families here. I know that this has been successful if I can close the website and it does not have to exist anymore.”