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As nationwide shortage continues, 'formula fairies' connect parents to formula through social media

A sign at a CVS pharmacy notifies customers of the limit on buying baby formula during the shortage. (Chris Carlson/AP)
A sign at a CVS pharmacy notifies customers of the limit on buying baby formula during the shortage. (Chris Carlson/AP)
This article is more than 1 year old.

Last Thursday, Arianne Dellovo logged onto Facebook to find the local moms' group full of posts looking for infant formula.

Concerned the requests would get lost in the shuffle, the Reading mom decided to do something about it. "I have some emotional and mental bandwidth that I felt like could be put toward trying to help people that were dealing with the repercussions of the shortage," she said.

The supply of infant formula has been dwindling for a while, but the shortage became a crisis for many parents this month. It's the result of supply chain disruptions and Abbott Nutrition's safety recall. Now, some retailers are limiting how much customers can buy at one time.

Doctors and health care workers are urging parents to contact food banks or physicians' offices if they need formula and can't find it, and warning against watering down formula to stretch supplies or using online DIY recipes.

Abbott Nutrition, one of the largest formula makers in the country, reached an agreement with the federal government Monday to reopen one of its factories. Production could restart in about two weeks, but it would take another six to eight weeks before that formula would reach store shelves, NPR reports. The Biden administration has also announced it will ease rules to make it easier to import formula.

But with supply unlikely to increase immediately, Dellovo along with four other women — Elizabeth Splain, Kate Joslin, Shana Keane and Susie Vanseth — formed a Facebook group last week called The Formula Fairies of Greater Boston Area & Southern NH. The group's focus is connecting parents who need formula with people who want to help by donating or by sending alerts when new shipments arrive.

Interest in the group exploded. It reached 500 members in its first 12 hours, said Dellovo. By Tuesday morning, the group ballooned to more than 1,400 people.

The group's admin team handles formula requests and donations in a giant spreadsheet, said Dellovo. They don't recommend that volunteers purchase formula without first checking for someone's specific needs.

"We certainly don't want to contribute to any sort of hoarding situation or people needlessly buying up formula, thinking that they could potentially do a good thing with it," she said.

Groups like the Formula Fairies have been popping up all over the country.

In Maryland, Kimberly Anderson, 34, told The Associated Press her 7 and 1/2-month-old son takes a prescription formula that has been nearly impossible to find locally. She turned to social media and said people in Utah and Boston found the formula, which she paid to have shipped.

“They say it takes a village to raise a baby," she said. “Little did I know my village spans the entire U.S. as I ping friends, family for their zip codes so I can check their local Walmarts to have them ship directly to me."

For anyone looking to donate formula, local food pantries are likely the best bet, said Adriene Worthington, director of nutrition programs at the Greater Boston Food Bank.

"If people do have formula to donate, which would be wonderful if they did, the best bet, instead of directly donating it to the [Greater Boston] Food Bank, which is a pretty large organization, would be to reach out to a local food pantry in their area and to donate directly to that pantry," she said.

Dellovo isn't sure what the next step is for the Formula Fairies, but she hopes it can expand in the future to help parents who are not on Facebook, or to accept monetary donations.

"We wanted to be the formula fairies who were making magic happen for these people who need it. [I'm] not sure where else it can go, but I just hope it keeps helping people," she said.

Material from The Associated Press was used in this report.

This article was originally published on May 17, 2022.


Meghan B. Kelly Multi-platform Editor
Meghan is the multi-platform editor for WBUR.



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