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Baby formula still on some shelves for San Diego's most vulnerable

Amidst a nationwide baby formula shortage, there are still places for some of San Diego’s most vulnerable families to find their preferred brand. KPBS Speak City Heights reporter Jacob Aere says it comes as the FDA has reached an agreement that could reopen a crucial baby formula plant to help ease supply issues.

The nation is facing an unprecedented baby formula shortage that’s left grocery aisles empty and caused an increase in prices.

“We’re noticing a lot more customers coming in looking for formula,” Rosalia Zamora said, the marketing manager of Mother’s Nutritional Center.

The effects of the shortage are not the same everywhere, according to Zamora. Her company specializes in products for infants and toddlers, and they’re still delivering on their baby formula orders across their four stores in San Diego.

“Every customer that has come in, that's the first thing that they ask. ‘Do you guys have the formula? I need Gentlease, I need Nutramigen,’” she said. “And for me to be able to say, 'Yes, we do,' it makes me so happy and it makes me feel like we’re helping our community.”

Mother’s Nutritional Center sells goods like baby formula to individuals that are part of the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children or WIC.

That program offers government subsidized food options for low-income pregnant, breastfeeding, and non-breastfeeding postpartum women, and for infants and children up to age 5 who are found to be at nutritional risk.

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Jacob Aere
Baby formula containers rest on a shelf at Mother’s Nutritional Center in City Heights, May 17, 2022.

Spaces that offer low-cost baby formula options are especially important now across East San Diego as other food distribution centers like the Rock Church in City Heights said that they “stopped receiving baby formula a month or so ago.”

Due to the shortage, Mother’s Nutritional Center is limiting the quantity of baby formula sales to the general public.

“Since we are on this formula shortage, we will sell one formula with cash, debit, credit or EBT,” Zamora said. “But with WIC we can fulfill the full order.”

California WIC Association Executive Director Karen Farley told KPBS that the shortage is putting the greatest burden on low-income people, like those on the WIC program. She said program participants are limited to what brands they can buy and where they can shop.

That means finding the right baby formula product at an attainable price, that’s close to home can be extra challenging.

“We had a customer who just recently came in and we were very touched because they couldn't find Pediasure anywhere. And this child is being fed via G-tube. So for them to find it here made us feel so happy that we are serving our community and helping these children,” Zamora said.

Whether it's moms, dads, grandparents or other guardians, Zamora said their stores see all types of family members come in to shop on the WIC program.

While Zamora said Mother’s Nutritional Center has been able to fulfill all of their customers orders, she’s unsure of what the future will bring for their company's baby formula supply.