Joanna Papantoniou Kapadoukakis, who lives in Whitestone, has searched far and wide to find baby formula for her 8-week-old son. Weeks ago, she tried three different stores — none had what she was looking for.
Just how sparse formula is at the moment is not lost on her.
“I always grab formula when I see it now,” Kapadoukakis said. She added that she even asked a friend who lives in Connecticut to bring her some from Costco.
Carin Chiang, a member of the Ozone Park Residents Block Association and former food pantry employee, had been giving away formula she collected prior to the shortage. When parents began searching frantically for baby formula, she offered it up in several neighborhood Facebook groups. Within minutes, she said, the comments began piling up, and continued through the night.
“It got to the point where I had to ask one lady if she was really coming since I had another mom asking for the same can,” Chiang told the Chronicle.
Those parents are far from the only ones facing this dilemma. Abbott Nutrition — one of the nation’s three major baby formula manufacturers, along with Gerber and Reckitt — recently halted production at its Sturgis, Mich., plant following the Food and Drug Administration’s discovery of potential bacterial infection Cronobacter sakazakii in products made there. In February, Abbott issued a voluntary recall for certain variations of its Similac, Alimentum and EleCare products. The recall has sent shockwaves throughout the country in recent weeks as supplies of formula have become limited, leaving many store shelves bare.
Queens stores are no exception. At one Walgreens, located at 44-15 Kissena Blvd. in Flushing, shelves were nearly empty, save for a handful of other Similac formulas and some plant-based ones. Though the manager declined to comment, he said that a lot of people have come in looking for formula.
Heather Weissman, the manager at the Key Food on Hillside Avenue in Jamaica, said customers have flocked from all over to find baby formula.
“I’ve had people that have traveled great distances,” she told the Chronicle. While on that particular morning, the shelf was full, she recommended that customers call ahead to check if it is in stock.
Even so, just how long formula is in stock once a store gets more is another question. And if the supply at the Stop & Shop at Ozone Park’s Clock Tower Plaza proves anything, the answer is: not for long.
According to manager Jenna Commanda, the store had received a shipment the previous night, and stocked the case that morning before opening at 8 a.m. By 11:15 a.m., the case was almost empty, with only a few bottles of Similac formula left.
“It looks sad,” another employee at the store added, referring to the empty shelves.
Fhamil Pan, the manager at the CVS in Glendale, reported a similar phenomenon. “When we get the delivery, we finish it the same day,” he said.
The managers also said that once their stores are out of formula, they have waited extended periods of time before receiving more. While Pan said his store has gotten shipments about once a week, Commanda said it takes her store about two, sometimes three, weeks to get a new stock. But it’s clear that there’s just no way of knowing — asked when her store was getting more baby formula, Weissman replied: “No idea.”
Accordingly, several stores have begun limiting the number of cans customers can buy at once.
While the issue has only recently made headlines, several store managers said they’ve struggled to fill shelves for some time now — Pan and Weissman said it’s been a challenge for about a month, but Commanda estimated it had been two.
In recent days, numerous elected officials have begun taking notice. Last Thursday, Gov. Hochul launched an effort to provide families with formula. Earlier this week, the Biden administration said it was working toward ending the shortage, and yesterday Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) announced her plan to combat the problem. The same day, several members of the City Council, including Speaker Adrienne Adams (D-Jamaica) and Lynn Schulman (D-Forest Hills), among others, sent a letter to Mayor Adams calling for action.
Abbott and the FDA came to an agreement Tuesday on the steps required for the Michigan facility to reopen, which the FDA predicts could happen within two weeks. How long it will take for shelves refill and stay full, however, is an open question.