Baby formula exchanges match donors with families in need

Websites are popping up that connect people who have extra baby formula with families. struggling to find the nutritional products amid severe national shortages in stores and online.

Those with baby formula they don’t need can sign up to donate the products, while parents and caregivers can sign up to request what they need. It’s the latest rudimentary effort by enterprising parents who want to help each other.

Keiko Zoll of Swampscott, Massachusetts, launched The Free Formula Exchange, a national mutual aid network, last week after hearing a podcast about the shortage and seeing reports of desperate parents searching for formula. Zoll, a mother herself, also recalled the difficulty she had as a young mother in finding certain products.

“It reminded me of when I was that mother nine years ago and I was the mother of a premature baby who needed a special formula,” she told CBS MoneyWatch. “It was very hard to find and very stressful, and that was during a time of plenty.”

“I couldn’t imagine being that premature mom now, trying to find a special formula when no one can find a formula,” Zoll added.

Keiko Zoll, a mother from Swampscott, Massachusetts (seen here with her 9-year-old son Judah), launched The Free Formula Exchange on May 13 to help connect people with extra baby formula with families struggling to find the right products. nutritional.

Courtesy of Keiko Zoll

How does the exchange work?

Formula seekers can visit The Free Formula Exchange and register to order the products they need. People who have formula can list the products they have in stock on the site. Both applicant and donor profiles are visible to each other and initiate connections themselves.

“Each party has access to the other party’s database,” Zoll said. “It takes initiative on both sides: If you’re applying for formula, you’re reaching out to people who have the brand you’re looking for; if you’re a donor, you’re looking for someone who matches what you have.”

The site, which has been active since May 13, has received approximately 3,000 formula requests since its launch. Zoll estimates that the exchange can currently accommodate about 300 of them.

“For every 10 requests, we only have one person available to donate. I want to reduce that ratio as much as possible and ideally would have a one-to-one ratio where every person requesting formula can be connected to someone who has supplies to donate.” , said.

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Another website called Baby Formula Exchange, created by Olympic gymnast and mother Shawn Johnson East, works in a similar way.

“My resourceful husband took an idea I had and made it a reality in 72 hours,” Johnson said in a video on Instagram after struggling to find formula for her young son, Jett.

Someone in Johnson’s network saw the product he 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?

Baby formula has been in short supply since February, when Abbott Nutrition closed the nation’s largest formula manufacturing plant after consumers reported that four infants who had consumed products made at the facility had developed serious bacterial infections. Two of the babies subsequently died.

Abbott’s plant closure exacerbated existing restrictions due to pandemic-related supply chain groans, 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 formula in the US.

Abbott said Monday that it had reached a settlement with the FDA that it hopes will allow the company reopen its main plant in two weeks. The FDA also seeks to make it easier for foreign manufacturers to ship formula to the US.

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Still, experts say it could be months before new inventory hits store shelves after manufacturing at Abbott’s facility restarts. Meanwhile, pediatricians have warned parents not to make their own formula or dilute your supply to make it last longer.

“The website is a simple solution to a complex problem. It’s connecting people who need formula with people who have more to donate,” Zoll said. “In the absence of additional supply on the market, there is at least a stopgap solution here for families. I’ll know this has been successful when I can shut down the website and it doesn’t need to exist.”

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