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Formula shortage has changed the definition of need, says nonprofit director


Earlier this week, the White House rolled out a number of actions to address the baby formula shortage that's become a national crisis. The Biden administration invoked the Defense Production Act and authorized what's been called Operation Fly Formula to bring federally approved formula supplies from overseas. Also, the FDA announced it's easing some restrictions to allow more manufacturers that meet health and safety standards to provide formula in the U.S. That includes international suppliers. Even with these new measures, relief for desperate families could still be weeks or months away.

Miki Farris is co-founder and executive director of Infant Crisis Services in Oklahoma City. For 38 years, her organization has helped supply low-income families with diapers and baby formula. But she says this formula shortage has left everyone scrambling.

MIKI FARRIS: Crisis is in our name because a crisis can actually be something like what's going on now? This levels the playing field for everybody. There are people that live in the biggest house in Oklahoma City that might not be able to get the formula that they want, and there are people that are in need in Oklahoma City that can't get the formula that they want. Our clients are coming in droves right now because we were prepared. We knew through the pandemic that there were going to be supply chain issues. At the beginning, it was diapers and wipes. Now it's formula. And so they're all necessities, but formula is an absolute must-have.

PFEIFFER: She said rural areas they serve are hit especially hard.

FARRIS: We are inundated because there aren't as many resources in rural Oklahoma or in any rural area and not as many grocery stores. So you might have one grocery store that you can go check to see if your formula is in your town, whereas in Oklahoma County, there's 30, 40, 50 - I don't know how many grocery stores. But there's lots of options where you could check to see if your formula was in stock.

PFEIFFER: Miki Farris says this shortage has changed the definition of need.

FARRIS: There was a mom that called whose child is on a very specialized formula and really has no other options. And she's a mom of means, but she cannot find it anywhere. And we had some of that. It was donated. It was not something we purchased. And so she was on the internet. She was on Facebook trying to find people, if they - did they have this kind of formula? And I said, well, we have it. And she goes, well, I can't take that. I mean, I - my husband's got a job and all that. I go, but your baby's in a crisis. You know, we're here for people in crisis, and a crisis looks different for everyone.

PFEIFFER: That was Miki Farris. She's the executive director of Infant Crisis Services in Oklahoma City. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.