Debbie Loesch, founder of Angels of Long Island, restocks baby...

Debbie Loesch, founder of Angels of Long Island, restocks baby formula during a baby formula drive at the thrift store location in Patchogue on May 11. Credit: Newsday / Steve Pfost

An infant formula drive is set for Oyster Bay this weekend as parents across Long Island and nationwide rely on family and friends, social media networks and community events to find the vital nutrition that continues to be scarce.

The U.S. government has imported millions of cans of formula in response to the nationwide shortage and the country's largest formula manufacturer last week resumed production. Still, U.S. Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Robert Califf told lawmakers last month the shortage is expected to extend until July.

Long Island parents are sporadically seeing their formula brands at stores, but the products are often quickly snatched up and specialty formulas are still hard to find. The inconsistency in stock has led to stress and a continual reliance on grassroots efforts to find nourishment for their babies, parents and community groups said.

Kristin Marie McDonough of Merrick, who founded the “Formula Fairies” Facebook page and has personally purchased formula for people, said more photos of fully stocked Long Island grocery store and pharmacy shelves are now frequently posted in the group.

“It's getting slightly better,” McDonough said. “But there are still a lot of desperate moms on the page every day looking for specific formula.”

McDonough suspects worried parents may sometimes buy more than they immediately need when available. Retailers have instituted limits to stay stocked, including Stop & Shop, which has restricted purchases to four units per customer.

The shortages became widespread in February after powdered formulas manufactured by Abbott Nutrition in a Michigan plant were thought to be linked to bacterial infections in infants and the company voluntarily recalled selected lots of Similac, Alimentum and EleCare formulas and halted production.

More formula is on the way, officials say, with the White House announcing in recent weeks that five shipments totaling millions of cans of formula were coming from Nestle in Germany, Kendamil in England and Bubs Australia under what it has termed “Operation Fly Formula.” Kendamil will first hit the shelves of Target stores across the country in the coming weeks, according to the Target website.

Abbott on Saturday said it is restarting production at its Sturgis, Michigan, plant after meeting requirements agreed to by the FDA. The company said it restarted production of EleCare and other specialty and metabolic formulas, with the initial batch of EleCare products reaching consumers about June 20.

To help ease the ongoing burden locally, the Town of Oyster Bay will host a collection drive and giveaway at Fireman’s Field from 11 a.m. until 2 p.m. Sunday. Residents will be asked to donate unused, unexpired formulas and it will be distributed on a first-come, first-served basis, according to the town.

Two previous events organized by the town and Massapequa mom Carmela Shimansky have already aided hundreds of parents, town officials said

“It’s easing a lot of tension and anxiety of the mothers out there who are concerned they are going to run out,” said Councilman Steve Labriola. “Now they know there is another resource out there for them.”

Additionally, the town will set up drop-off boxes for formula between June 15 and July at Town Hall North and South, Labriola said.

Other community groups, volunteer organizations and local governments have also been at the front lines of the crisis, organizing formula drives or delivering formula to parents. 

Debbie Loesch, founder of the East Patchogue nonprofit Angels of Long Island, said the most urgent requests are for specialty formulas like Enfamil Gentlease, Enfamil’s Neuro Pro formulas and Enfamil’s hypoallergenic Nutrimagen. The organization typically assists families with financial needs or those in domestic violence situations, but has pivoted recently to help distribute formula.

It has helped hundreds of parents and continues to provide formula to 20 to 30 families per day, Loesch said.

“On the heels of a pandemic, people are so stressed out with mental health and finances with the economy,” Loesch said. “You add this to the mix, let me tell you something, that's not good. I mean, they can't feed their babies.”

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