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Charlotte families show up hours before StarMed formula distribution

As parents struggle to find formula for their children, StarMed Healthcare will be handing out Similac, Gerber and Nestle products for free on Tuesday.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — StarMed Healthcare handed out baby formula Tuesday for parents who are unable to find formula for their children due to the nationwide shortage

In a tweet, StarMed said it would be distributing formula at its Tuckaseegee and Central locations. StarMed said it keeps formula on hand for various reasons and after checking inventory, it's able to give it to families in need. 

On Wednesday, StarMed said they were able to provide about a weeks-worth of formula to about 1,100 babies. 

No registration was required but supplies were limited. The distribution began at noon on Tuesday. StarMed said Monday's shipment arrived early, so they were hoping to distribute even more formula than they intended.

Some parents said the distribution was a good opportunity to get a backup can just in case, but others said they're out of options after finding nothing in stores. 

"I've been to a few different stores now," one mother said. "He drinks a certain kind of milk since his stomach's sensitive, and they've been out of it everywhere. I've had my mom, she lives in a different town, I've had her look for some."

Another woman said she's not worried about right now, but where things will be in a few weeks. 

"I know she won't go without," she said. "What's going through my mind is I'm going to be covered for another month, but after that, where are we going to be? Is everything going to be back in stock or what is going on?"

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StarMed had the following formula types on hand: 

  • Gerber Good Start lactose-free powder
  • Similac Advance ready-to-feed bottles
  • Gerber Good Start GentlePro prebiotics ready-to-feed bottles
  • Nestle Nan Pro powder formula with iron

Baby formula were given out at these locations on Tuesday, May 17: 

Meanwhile, some families on the hunt for baby formula are using social media to narrow their search.

“The Facebook mom groups have been the most helpful,” Katie Williams, a breast milk donor, said. “Locally, people are posting photos of the formula shelves saying, 'This Publix in Cornelius has this formula. Does anybody need it? I can grab it while I’m here.'”  

Parents say it has been a great resource for families looking for baby food and also helps to connect with moms donating their own breast milk as another option families can use to feed their babies.

Megan Davenport works in admin for Eats on Feets North Carolina, a breast milk sharing network.

“Moms are reaching into their freezers and pulling out their freezer stash and offering it to other moms in need,” Davenport said. “It is amazing what I’m seeing happening in our community, online and in person."

Moms like Williams are pulling together to help feed babies during the formula shortage.

“I will either post that I have milk available that is frozen that I’ve properly handled and stored,” Williams shared.

The milk can last up to six months in a kitchen freezer and up to 12 months in a deep freezer.

“A lot of times, the mothers can provide their lab work from pregnancy to make sure it's clear from pathogens and any diseases that might be shared through the breast milk,” Davenport adds.

It’s important to do your homework. Williams shared these as the type of questions to ask donors to find the right fit.

“What medications are you on? Are you vaccinated for COVID-19... if that is important to your family,” Williams continued. “Do you drink coffee, do you smoke, do you take a prenatal vitamin?”

She is also buying formula for families in need because she says no parent should have to worry about feeding a child.

“Having a young infant is a very vulnerable time emotionally and physically," Williams said. "If I can help take the burden off even one mom then I would love to be able to do that.”

It's food for thought during a time of scarcity.

WHAT TO KNOW BEFORE USING DONOR MILK

*Information via the CDC

  • Consult a healthcare provider first 
  • Consider the possible safety risks
  • FDA recommends against feeding your baby breast milk acquired directly from individuals or through the Internet
  • FDA recommends that if, after consultation with a healthcare provider, you decide to feed a baby with human milk from a source other than the baby’s mother, you should only use milk from a source that has screened its milk donors and taken other precautions to ensure the safety of its milk.

National shortage

The Biden administration launched a web page last week with resources to help families who are unable to find formula during the shortage. The website includes manufacturer hotlines for Gerber, Abbott and Redkitts, and includes information about community resources. 

The baby formula shortage is the result of supply chain disruptions and a recall by Abbott, stemming from contamination concerns. The recall, in particular, wiped out many brands covered by WIC, a federal program like food stamps that serves women, infants and children, though the program now permits brand substitutes.

White House Assistant Press Secretary Kevin Munoz said the administration is working with manufacturers to speed up production and get shelves stocked.

“That's why the FDA has been cleared as soon as today,” Munoz said. “We absolutely need to work on how we to get more product into the market that's safe and effective from other countries. So, the FDA is working very hard to provide that guidance.”

He added there are some dos and don’ts to keep in mind.

“We do advise against making your own formula or watering down your formula," Munoz said. "And we do encourage you to understand that you can swap your formula that is safe.”

For families struggling to find the formula they need, NCDHHS has several recommendations, as well as four important reminders for families:

  • Do NOT water down your baby’s formula to stretch it out, it can be extremely dangerous to your baby to do so.
  • Do NOT try to make homemade formula or give your baby toddler formula before their first birthday, these can also be dangerous to your baby.
  • If you can’t find formula or can’t find your baby’s specific formula, work with your child’s health care provider to determine the best feeding plan.
  • Only buy formula from reputable retailers, not from unknown individuals, online resellers or from overseas. How formula is stored and shipped can impact its safety for your baby.  

NCDHHS is taking several actions with the U.S. Department of Agriculture and other federal agencies and suppliers to help make it easier for families to access formula during this shortage, including:

  • Through WIC, helping to connect families directly to needed formula and placing bulk orders with manufacturers on behalf of local WIC agencies and the families they serve.
  • Using flexibility from the federal government to make it easier for WIC participants to access available formula. North Carolina is already using available USDA rule waivers to help retailers continue to serve WIC-enrolled families during the shortage and help families return or exchange formulas included in the recall.
  • Working with the federal government to waive additional rules for the WIC program
    to make it easier for WIC participants to access available formula. North Carolina has requested waivers that would give WIC-enrolled families more flexibility to purchase other types of formula and in a wider variety of sizes based on availability and health care provider recommendations.   
  • Providing guidance to local WIC agencies and health care providers to make it easier for health care providers to give WIC-enrolled families several options of formula types and sizes on a single prescription to meet their children’s specialized formula needs.
  • Closely monitoring the fluctuating formula supply across the state and keeping our partner organizations updated.

Contact Jesse Pierre at jpierrepet@wcnc.com or follow her on FacebookTwitter and Instagram.

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