Lawrence families create mutual aid network during baby formula shortage

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Baby formula is one of the most important products for many new parents, but a national shortage has driven families to desperate measures to fulfill their most basic responsibility: feeding their kids. 

A nationwide shortage, which started in February and peaked in June when 74% of formulas were out of stock across the country, shows no signs of slowing.

Mothers are on the frontline of this struggle against supply chain disruptions. But as a group of Lawrence moms and more band together to overcome it, they’re showing the power of mutual aid and setting a model for how people in other communities can help their neighbors survive tough times.


A Facebook connection

The Lawrence Baby Formula Connection Facebook group has been a critical resource for some families to find formula in town. Among the 250-plus group members, there’s usually at least one post per day, ranging from Dillons shelves snapshots to questions about where to find soy Similac.

“It’s just a group of not just moms, but also dads, grandparents, friends and older siblings that dedicate time and energy to making sure folks know what’s available and where. It’s been really cool to watch it evolve,” says Abby Corrin, a social worker and Lawrence mom who started the group in May.

To help her friends and family navigate the beginning of the shortage, Corrin was keeping an Excel spreadsheet of the different formula brands they used. She referenced it every time she went to the store, helping them secure what they needed.

Not needing to buy formula for herself, with one toddler and another child on the way, Corrin didn’t realize how widespread the shortage was. It was a wake-up call when she posted on another Facebook group for Lawrence moms, asking if anyone wanted to be added to her list. The blowout response inspired her to start her own Baby Formula Connection group.

“I knew these moms were gonna rally for each other and fight for people they didn’t even know and babies they’ve never met. It’s been really empowering, and I think it shows that Lawrence is special in the way we view community,” Corrin says.

The real-life impact

Haylie Lancaster, a Lawrence resident who works as a middle school counselor in Topeka, became a first-time mom in October 2021 when she delivered her son, Oliver. By the time she and her husband could barely find their go-to formula brand at the store, they were still getting used to being new parents, with no time to spare for canvassing stores all across town.

“We were going all over the place: grocery stores, Walgreens, Hy-Vee. It was nowhere,” Lancaster says. “It was pure panic. And even when we could secure one of the biggest containers, which would feed our son for a week or two, we’d already have to start looking for the next one.”

Megan Summers/Contributed Photo Baby formula shelves sit mostly empty at a Lawrence grocery store on June 26, 2022.

Like many babies, Oliver could only tolerate specific types of formula, which only narrowed their search. Lancaster was relieved when she found the Facebook group.

Over the past few months, group members have helped locate her product in stores and connected her with people who already had it on hand. Lancaster says the group has helped her navigate the hardest thing she’s ever done: becoming a mom.

“[This group] fed my son. That’s huge. If it wasn’t for them, I don’t know how he would have eaten. It’s amazing to me that the community can come together and do that for moms,” she says.

Sarah Douglas is another local mom who got much-needed support from the group. With two kids already in middle school, Douglas never expected to have problems finding baby formula for her now 9-month-old son, Jude. But when breastfeeding became no longer feasible as Jude hit 7 months, Douglas’ new problem of needing formula fell squarely within the shortage.

“It was national news for a couple of weeks, but it’s not talked about quite as much anymore, certainly not on the national level, but it’s still incredibly difficult to find the brand we use,” Douglas says.

Through the group, Douglas has connected with three other members to secure the specific product Jude can tolerate: Enfamil Gentlease. She’s even had the opportunity to pay it forward: when Douglas experimented with a different type of formula for Jude, which he didn’t take, she was able to supply it to other moms.

“The gratitude is pretty overwhelming just to know that there’s people out there that are willing to help a complete stranger,” she says.

Other resources for moms

In addition to joining groups like the Baby Formula Connection, there are other resources available for families searching for baby formula:

• The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services offers tips on finding safe substitutes.
• Kansas’ Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program has compiled a list of alternatives to recalled Similac products.
• The national nonprofit Eat Right has posted a quick guide with tips on navigating the baby formula shortage. 

And TYKES Douglas County, a new online resource, launched last month to support children through age 5, is a one-stop shop for local caregivers to access education and connections.

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Jordan Winter (she/her), a contributor to The Lawrence Times, is a 2019 KU grad with degrees in journalism and political science.

Check out her work at See more of her work for the Times here.

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