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Spokane families and businesses feel effects of national baby formula shortage

Caretakers and parents are seeing empty baby formula shelves when walking into local grocery stores.

SPOKANE, Wash. — The national baby formula shortage is hitting Spokane.

A major contributor to the shortage is the temporary shutdown of Abbott's Michigan plant, the formula maker's largest domestic factory.

KREM 2 went to four grocery stores Monday looking for formula and found near-empty shelves and a significant lack of liquid formula.

The Safeway off of Hamilton Ave and Mission Ave currently limits customers to only purchasing two formula items.

Chaunley Terry recently moved to Spokane from California. He said he could see the shortage effects there and knew things would continue to get worse.

"And I was right," Terry said. "It just started to get harder and harder to find, you’d have to go to different stores, go online and hope that stuff just pops up. And then you'd still may end up having to try a different one or something that’s close enough.”

Terry said it took months to figure out what formula his 10-month old baby could digest without getting fussy. Now, Terry considers less about what his baby likes and more about what's available.

“At the end of the day, you have to feed your kid," Terry said. "So, you’ll just have to deal with them being fussy. And I would much rather him being fussy and alive than starved.”

Terry has two large tubs of generic formula in place of his son's preferred Similac Total Comfort. He said one of the large containers can get him through a week.

For some caretakers, swapping formulas can lead to more than just a fussy baby.

Alexandria Black said her granddaughter has digestive issues and can only keep down a certain kind of liquid formula. She said this makes an already difficult situation even harder.

Black said she's contacted friends and family all through the Inland Northwest looking for the right kind of formula.

“I have even contacted people clear over in Yakima," Black said. "I even reached out to a guy in Portland. Nobody has what she needs. My sister is in Las Vegas right now looking for formula to bring her home. She says there’s a massive shortage over there too. They don’t have it in any stores.” 

Terry said he has also reached out to family in Florida to help find formula.

"When I can't get it here, I'm checking other zip codes to see if any is nearby," Terry said. "I'll usually just ask my family in Florida, 'hey, if you see it, buy it and I'll send you money for it'."

Black's granddaughter is able to get formula from Washington state's WIC nutrition program. In terms of traveling for formula, this presents a problem when Black travels to Idaho looking for her granddaughter's nutrients. She may be able to find the kind her granddaughter needs, but then, she has to pay out of pocket.

"We pay almost $200 a month out of pocket for her formula," Black said. "Six cans of her formula is $80."

Black said her granddaughter goes through three cans of soy Similac formula every day. 

In an effort to stretch what she has, she said she mixes it with cereal or bananas until she can find more.

Terry said being a parent right now is difficult. When he sees the formula his son needs in stores, he wants to buy plenty because he knows he'll need it. But, he also knows other families are in the same boat and driving store to store to find what their children need to grow and be healthy.

"That's where you're conflicted," Terry said. "It's like I need to make sure my kid gets fed, but I also don't want to take away from people who are experiencing the same thing. As of now, we don't see any end to this shortage." 

Spokane parents and caretakers have a Facebook group where people are able to find and swap formulas they are looking for or no longer need.

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