Foodland IGA has dozens of containers of certain types of baby formula, including some WIC eligible, along with a lot of empty shelf space. Safeway expects to get limited shipments Tuesday and Thursday, but supplies are usually gone by the weekend despite a two-container per-visit limit. Local food banks and shelters say plenty of mothers are in need, but there’s been few donations.
None of the officials interviewed at those entities and others in Juneau where mothers normally get baby formula Monday have a good idea when the critical shortage being felt nationwide might improve here. That’s despite 78,000 pounds of baby formula arriving in the U.S. from Germany on Sunday and an agreement formula-maker Abbott Nutrition reached with U.S. health regulators last week to restart production.
“I’ve expressed for mothers that Tuesdays and Thursdays are the days our shipments of formula are on shelves,” said Mark Jones, store director at the Juneau Safeway. “Usually, by the weekend we’re completely blown out again.”
He said there are difficulties both with limits on the different types of formula available — perhaps six to eight currently, versus 30 to 40 normally — and the qualities of what’s available that can be shipped.
“I can only order two cases for each variety, whether I get them or not,” Jones said. Customers are subsequently limited to two containers per shopping trip.
Restrictions on the type of formula that can be purchased via the federal Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children benefits is also a complication, he said.
“We carry one specific brand a mom can’t get anywhere else,” Jones said. He said local store officials are checking on supplies at other statewide stores, but “there’s no extra to be found.”
The online shopping portals for the local Safeway and Fred Meyer showed nearly no baby formula available as of mid-afternoon Monday, with only three of the dozens of types normally at Safeway in stock and none at Fred Meyer.
The situation is somewhat more stable at Foodland, where at midday Monday there were several dozen containers of various types of formulas including WIC-eligible, and alt- or plant-milk products. But a majority of WIC-eligible products were absent and mothers needing special types of formula aren’t always able to purchase any.
“We’ve been lucky,” said Brad Folckomer, the store’s assistant director, referring to generally being able to keep some stock on shelves. “We’ve been able to get through the end of our weeks.”
Folckomer said there are currently about 4,000 cases in IGA’s national warehouse, but that’s not enough to fully satisfy all the stores and customers experiencing shortages.
There are no limits on the amount of formula shoppers can purchase, and prices the store pays and customers pay hasn’t been affected by the shortage in itself, he said. While arrivals of shipments from overseas and restarting production are making global headlines now, media coverage also notes it will likely take months for the shortage to show signs of easing.
“I hope it’s over soon, (but) it doesn’t sound like it’s going to get better,” Folckomer said.
The shortage is particularly dire for many mothers who rely on public assistance and charitable help. Karen Fortwengler, director of Helping Hands Food Bank of Juneau, said they have distributed formula when it’s been donated periodically during normal times, but none has been received for a couple of months.
“I would say that we probably have maybe 20 mothers that could ask for it,” she said.
The weekly food pantry at Resurrection Lutheran Church also had no formula available Monday. Pastor Karen Perkins said the church was receiving cases regularly donated by Valley Medical Care, but during the past couple of months supplies have been limited to what parishioners and others involved in the food pantry have been able to locate and purchase.
“I have told other people I am in need and I’m happy to distribute anything,” she said, noting no quantity is too small and “we can have it out there (to mothers) within a week.”
• Contact reporter Mark Sabbatini at email@example.com.