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San Diegans struggle with nationwide baby formula shortage

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Megan Lenz
Nathan Lenz holds his baby sister, Stephanie Lenz, 2022.

Megan Lenz’s three-month old daughter Stephanie has been struggling to put on weight and keep food down. Lenz tried several different types of formula before finally finding one that actually worked.

“We found Nutramigen Hypoallergenic, and now it’s the only one she can use,” said Lenz.

It was a relief to finally find something that didn’t upset her baby’s stomach, but that relief was short-lived.

Due to supply chain issues, inflation and product recalls, the nation is facing an unprecedented baby formula shortage that’s left grocery aisles completely empty and caused a surge in pricing.

Lenz, who lives in Santee, is now struggling to find the formula her baby needs in the store. And she says when she can find it, the price of a can has shot up from $35 to $38.

“We cannot afford it,” she said. “The shortage is scary if you can’t find food for your baby.”

In a moment of hopelessness, Lenz turned to Facebook — something she says she rarely does — and asked for people to please buy the formula her baby needs, if they saw it, and that she would reimburse them.

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The response was overwhelming, Lenz said.

“We had people offering to drive it to us from out of state, to ship it to us — and it's just amazing how the community came together to help my daughter,” she said. “But it shouldn't have to be like that.”

Lenz has strived to pay it forward by giving away the baby formula her daughter couldn’t keep down. On Tuesday, a mother from El Cajon who connected with her via social media came to get some of Lenz’s already opened formula. The mom was in tears.

“Right now with everything going on, you don't want anything opened, but she was desperate,” said Lenz. “That's how bad the formula shortage is right now.”

Since her Facebook post went viral, Lenz has been able to secure about a month’s worth of formula, but once that runs out she doesn’t know what she will do.

“Parents are scared and they're really not sure where to go,” said Casey Castillo, CEO of the San Diego Food Bank.

As one of only three food banks in the state to offer diapers and formula, they’ve seen demand for these items go up every year. On Tuesday night, the food bank’s last shipment of formula was shipped out to local distributors. We have never experienced this and we've never seen where we have been completely out of baby formula at both locations,” he said.

Castillo is especially worried about how the region’s working families, many of whom have already been hit hard by COVID-19, fuel costs, and rising inflation, will be impacted by this current shortage.

“You need diapers and you need formula to be able to continue to go to work,” he said. “And so this is adding an additional stressor on these families that are struggling.”

The San Diego food bank is already working with grocery stores to see how they can replenish their supplies. And, as always, their doors are open for donations.

Leaders of both political parties have been critical of the federal government’s response, saying more has to be done. The FDA says it's working to increase domestic production and import more formula.

For now, however, parents like Megan Lenz are uncertain of how they’ll be able to feed their babies in the months to come.