A nationwide shortage of baby formula is hitting home at a number of archdiocesan food pantries, say administrators.
“We are in short supply everywhere, and in some places there is no supply,” said Amy Stoner, director of community-based, housing and homelessness services for archdiocesan Catholic Social Services (CSS).
Patrick Walsh, manager of the agency’s Martha’s Choice Marketplace in Norristown, confirmed both clients and staff have “noticed a shortage” in baby formula, most of which his team sources through the hunger relief agency Philabundance.
Lizanne Hagedorn, director of archdiocesan Nutritional Development Services (NDS), said her agency has so far been able to sustain deliveries of baby formula to the child care centers it serves, thanks to its most recent collection drive in January, which amassed “about 10,000 pounds.”
At the same time, Hagedorn said although her team “(has) not had any issues getting formula, that is not to say we won’t in the future.”
National out-of-stock rates for baby formula soared to 43% this week, according to the Virginia-based pricing data firm Datasembly, which has predicted that “shortages will continue to worsen.”
The empty shelves – where gaps first emerged in July 2021 — are down to “inflation, supply chain shortages and product recalls,” said Ben Reich, the company’s founder and CEO.
Earlier this week, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) was “working around the clock to address any possible shortages.”
Specifically, the agency was helping manufacturers to boost production, prioritize the most needed product lines and streamline the importation process for some infant formula products, said Psaki during the May 9 press briefing.
A key driver of the shortage is a voluntary product recall announced in February by Abbott Nutrition, maker of the Similac, Alimentum and EleCare brands.
The company, a major supplier, flagged powdered infant formulas from its Sturgis, Michigan plant after complaints of bacterial infections in four infants, two of whom later died. The facility has largely been shuttered pending FDA clearance to resume operations.
In the meantime, clients of CSS sites are using alternative formula brands approved by the federal WIC (Women, Infants and Children) supplemental nutrition program.
But “even with alternative brands, there is still a shortage,” said Fredeswinda Rodriguez, administrator of CSS’s Cenacle at the Padre Pio Center in the city’s Frankford section.
And switching formulas isn’t without side effects, which is why Beth Wood, administrator of CSS’s Northeast Family Service Center in the city’s Mayfair section, is directing her clients “to contact their pediatricians” if they need to find a different brand.
Wood is also counseling clients “not to dilute formula or make their own,” she said. “This is very dangerous.”
The FDA, along with numerous pediatricians, has warned that homemade infant formulas – recipes for which are widely available online — pose real health risks, from nutritional imbalances to contamination.
As the federal government and manufacturers work to restore stock levels, Walsh said he’s exploring ways to expand options for his clients, a majority of whom represent large, young families.
“I’d love to be able to offer moms free, accessible lactation consulting,” he said. “The impact saved in money and increased post-natal health outcomes would be huge.”
Yet access to formula will remain critical, since “breastfeeding is not always feasible, especially when the baby is being raised by someone other than the mother,” or when mothers “have to get back to work and need the convenience” of prepared formula, said Hagedorn.
Donations of baby formula, especially brands for infants with sensitive digestive systems, are more welcome than ever, said CSS administrators.
“We will be contacting the formula companies to see if we can get any samples,” said Wood. “However, I know distribution is limited.”
For more information about the Abbott Nutrition powdered infant formula recall, visit the FDA website.
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