‘I knew I had to do something’: Crestview woman creates group to help mothers find baby formula

Sierra Rains
Northwest Florida Daily News

Shortages in baby formula have been widespread across the United States, with barren shelves turning up in the Florida Panhandle all the way from Escambia to Walton counties.

The shortage has left mothers like Jessica Owens in DeFuniak Springs, whose 10-month-old daughter has a milk protein allergy, with little options. Now, a Facebook group created last week is helping mothers locate baby formula and even share supplies.

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The group, “Feeding Babies Across the Emerald Coast,” had amassed over 550 members by Thursday. Burgundy Lunsford, an educator from Crestview, said she created the group to give mothers a common place to share stocks of baby formula.

Burgundy Lunsford has formed a Facebook group to help families find baby formula during the shortage.

“I don’t have any children, but I do want to have children one day and I can’t control what’s going on in the world, but I can step up and make a difference. Even as little as just making a Facebook group,” she said. “I knew I had to do something and that’s what I knew I could do.”

Why is there a baby formula shortage?

The baby formula shortage began in November, when about 11% of popular brands were out of stock, according to Datasembly, a data analytics firm that tracks retail information.

In April, baby formula shortages hit 30% nationwide because of recalls and supply chain strains. For the week beginning May 8, nearly 45% of baby formula was sold out at retailers across the U.S. 

Retailers such as CVS, Target and Walmart have put purchase limits on formula.

“I have been to the Crestview stores. I have been to the Fort Walton (Beach) stores, Pensacola stores— they are all pretty much empty," Lunsford said.

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Unlike other food products, baby formula does not have an available substitution for those who depend on it out of medical necessity or when they are unable to produce milk.

Owens relies on Nutramigen, a hypoallergenic, lactose-free formula, for her daughter, but said it’s been near impossible to find the formula at stores in DeFuniak Springs. She was down to her last can of baby formula Wednesday.

“She can only drink Nutramigen, but we are having trouble finding it because so many doctors prescribed babies with this formula due to milk protein allergies,” Owens said. “We are going to have to get her toddler formula because finding the infant formula is a big struggle.”

Lunsford said she knows many people who have encountered the same issues due to their children having dietary restrictions. Changing formulas can cause adverse reactions such as an upset stomach.

A photo taken by Burgundy Lunsford, creator of the Facebook group "Feeding Babies Across the Emerald Coast," shows the mostly empty shelves at a Crestview grocery store. The group was created to help parents find baby formula amid a nationwide shortage.

While a few brands are occasionally stocked on shelves, some people in the Facebook group have driven to cities over an hour away just to get the formula they need.

“I do know a lot of people in this area have been impacted and are having trouble finding formula,” Lunsford said. “Sometimes when people can’t find the particular brand that they’re looking for they may have to put their baby on something else, which may upset their stomach.”

On her days off, Lunsford has taken the time to drive to stores in nearby cities to let people know what brands are on the shelves. But the group has grown so much over the last week that many members have taken that into their own hands.

“I certainly didn’t expect it to take off in the way that it has and it’s very touching to know that these people are supporting each other,” Lunsford said. “I’ve seen people tag each other in posts if they know somebody is looking for a certain type of formula. Everybody’s been really up lifting."

Members have been posting photos of stock at stores and arranging meetings to exchange formula. One woman bought two $50 packs of formula from Costco and gave cans out to other members for free.

“She didn’t have a baby that needed it," Lunsford said. "She just wanted to make sure that somebody had formula."

Owens discovered the group after a friend mentioned it to her on Facebook. Many were quick to lend a hand when she posted asking for help finding hypoallergenic formula.

More than 20 people commented on her post to share places they had seen the formula in stock and one woman offered up her own 8 ounce can of Nutramigen formula.

“It’s been very helpful,” Owens said. “Myself, I’ve given away formula that my daughter couldn’t use.”

The nationwide shortage of baby formula has prompted a response from Congress and the White House, with legislation approved last week to secure the supply chain.

The Abbott formula factory in Sturgis, Michigan, which was shut down amid recalls of contaminated formula, also reached a consent decree with the Food and Drug Administration last week to reopen, provided safety guidelines are met.

But it still could be weeks before formula returns to shelves.

Lunsford said she hopes the group can continue to be a resource for mothers in need along the Emerald Coast. She would still like to see it used as a resource after the shortage is over, and only time will tell how it evolves.

“I love to see the support of other people in the community and I just think if there’s a simple way that you could help somebody, even if it’s just tagging them in something that they know could help somebody else  just do every little thing you can to help somebody," Lunsford said.