On her weekend trips to Target on Southwest Archer Road, Kami Ratliff used to reach for her 1-year-old daughter's preferred formula without second thought.
Now when the 23-year-old strolls her red cart through the baby food aisle, she passes bare shelves where one scant powdered formula brand lays.
This is the reality for many Alachua County parents grappling with the formula shortage and inflation — problems created by COVID-19-related supply chain issues and exacerbated by a recall of Abbott Nutrition’s Similac, Alimentum and EleCare powdered formulas.
Ratliff devised a local solution to a national problem Tuesday after scrolling through Facebook and noticing mothers both pleading for and offering formula after the recall. Feed Gainesville Babies, a Facebook group, helps moms organize swaps and find the specific formula brands they need.
As of Sunday, the group had 309 members.
Nationwide, 43% of baby formula was out of stock for the first week of May, according to Datasembly, a retail pricing research firm.
Abbott Nutrition’s countrywide recall resulted from at least five reports of infant illness, according to the FDA. Two babies died.
An investigation determined the infants were infected with Cronobacter sakazakii, a rare infection that can cause dangerous blood infections and complications; another complaint linked salmonella to the formula.
The FDA’s teams are working tirelessly to alleviate supply issues and ensure the safety of infant formula products, according to a statement released Tuesday.
While the government scrambles to find a formulaic solution to the formula crisis, Ratliff’s Facebook group is a proactive source of hope for Gainesville mothers.
Although her daughter, Skye, has weaned off formula, Ratliff said she sympathizes with mothers whose newborns still rely on it for nutrition.
“My heart sank thinking about what the parents were having to go through right now not being able to find anything for their babies,” Ratliff said.
Within hours of making the group, Ratliff saw people get the formula they pleaded for. Mothers from all around Alachua County and neighboring counties have joined the group to swap, too.
Other groups, like Gainesville Word of Mouth, have been used to announce scarce restocks; stores without limits on how much formula shoppers can buy are raided within hours.
A restock at Sam’s Club in Butler North was shared on Facebook Wednesday afternoon, but bare shelves paralleled aisles just an hour later.
“People be trying to hoard these things instead of getting what you need,” one user commented.
Manufacturers are meeting and even exceeding capacity levels to meet the demand, according to the FDA. Despite this overtime effort, many major retailers have been forced to cap the amount of formula customers buy.
CVS Pharmacy limited shoppers to three formula products per purchase both in stores and online. Target wrote in an email that it has online product limitations in place and is monitoring the industry-wide supply constraints, too.
Rebekah Villar Mondry has called at least eight pharmacies over the past month and resorted to calling pediatricians’ offices to ask for samples to feed her 4-month-old son, Mateo.
The 28-year-old mother’s preferred amino acid-based baby formula was already difficult to attain before the shortage.
“I was worried about feeding my child,” she said. “He’s allergic to almost everything else. His formula is PurAmino, and that’s the only one he can have.”
PurAmino used to cost $50 or $60 per can, which lasts two to three days. She now pays $80 or $85.
Villar Mondry found two cans of PurAmino, four to six days’ worth of food for her son, on Feed Gainesville Babies.
“It’s amazing how people are coming together,” she said. “All moms are scared right now because we need to feed our babies. Trading with each other, that’s the best we can do.”
Contact Carissa Allen at email@example.com or follow her on Twitter @carissaallenn.
Carissa Allen is a third-year journalism and political science double major. She is excited to continue her work on the Metro desk this semester as the East Gainesville Reporter. In her free time, you can find her scuba diving, working out or listening to a podcast.