MADISON COUNTY, Ala. (WHNT) – Families hoped the formula shortage would subside after one of the nation’s biggest plants reopened after contamination concerns shut it down. However, the shortages are expected to continue through the summer.
Foster families told News 19 that they’re really feeling the pressure during this time. Lauren Coon has a son, in addition to being a foster mom to nearly a dozen children over the past five years. She is a nurse and specializes in fostering medically fragile babies.
“I go to take him home from the NICU and I asked, ‘Where should I get the formula?’ They said, ‘Here is one can. Talk to WIC and see if they can do anything for you,’ and that was it,” Coon explained.
WIC is the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children, and it provides federal grants to states for supplemental foods, among other things. Foster children are automatically eligible for WIC up to five years of age.
Coon said the babies she specializes in fostering though, who are medically fragile, often have added restrictions.
“A lot of times the babies that come into care will have issues with their digestion from being drug-exposed or other reasons so a lot of the kids are on special formulas,” Coon said.
Amid the formula shortage, WIC has expanded brands of formula that are covered, but Coon said she’s still mostly paying out-of-pocket anytime she sees what her current baby needs, which is a soy-based formula. The baby was diagnosed with a dairy allergy while in the NICU.
Coon said finding any formula, let alone a specialty one, is nearly impossible.
“The last thing you want in the world is to not be able to feed them,” she said. “You also can’t do what you normally would do. If it were my other son, my biological child, I could make do with something else, maybe a different formula if it was something I thought was right, but I don’t have that luxury with a foster child. I have to do what the doctor says they need and that’s it,” Coon told News 19.
Coon turned to the North Alabama Foster Closet for help. The Foster Closet is a nonprofit organization that provides essential items for families with foster kids of all ages, free of cost to the family.
“50% of foster parents nationwide quit within their first year. Many of them cite the reason for lack of resources and lack of support, so that’s part of the reason why we’re here,” Founder and Executive Director Kimberly DuVall told News 19.
She said their formula supply has been impacted too amid supply issues. First, they had to throw out any re-called stock they had. Then, more calls started coming in. “Foster babies can’t be breastfed,” DuVall said. “The families were starting to ask more and more for certain things they were having trouble getting a hold of.”
She said often too, a foster parent doesn’t always know when the next baby will come into their care or what their dietary needs might be. “If the hospital, or the police station, or wherever that child is coming from, if they don’t have formula for the parents, the parents are left to go out at any time of day to find that formula.”
Many fosters keep a small stash of formula on hand for these situations, because of how unpredictable it can be, DuVall explained. When she posted on the Closet’s Facebook page asking for donations for foster families, she said the community stepped up, including many of the Closet’s own clients.
“Foster families have been bringing us their stash so it can be available to kids,” DuVall said.
Those donations, Coon said, she’s incredibly grateful for. “I don’t know what we would’ve done without [the Foster Closet], it’s because of being able to have these resources that impact our ability to keep fostering as a whole.”
Their highest need right now, formula-wise, are Prosobee soy-based formula, Reguline, Enfamil AR and Enfamil Gentle Ease.
Their office is located at 5510 Highway 53 in Harvest. If you are interested in donating, you can contact the office via email at email@example.com, through Facebook or on their website.