SEATTLE — It's been about nine months since the nation's infant formula crisis began, but the impact is still being felt by families in Washington state.
Living in Cowlitz County, Nicole Curtis said she has limited grocery shopping options and knows firsthand the struggle to find infant formula.
Curtis is a community advocate for Northwest Harvest, which KING 5 has partnered with to raise meals for vulnerable populations across Washington, including babies and children.
When Curtis brought her son Kaius home, she hoped to breastfeed him for at least a year like age did with her now 9-year-old son, Julien.
"I didn't realize he just wasn't getting enough milk from me and I was really sad because in the hospital, he seemed to be fine," Curtis said. “It was making me feel like a failure as a mother to not be able to feed my baby.”
Switching to infant formula was not easy as Kaius, or "Kai," was born four months into the nationwide formula recall.
Infant formula maker Abbott recalled several products and shut down production after bacteria was found at its Michigan site. The month before Kai was born, more than 40% of the U.S. baby formula supplies were out of stock.
"I was in dire need," Curtis said.
Curtis said she turned to her pediatrician for help. She made connections with local youth and family services. In her position with Northwest Harvest, she already knew how food insecurity impacts children across the state.
According to Northwest Harvest, one in six Washington kids lives in a household facing challenges putting enough food on the table.
“We're talking about the most vulnerable people in your family," said Christina Wong, Northwest Harvest director of public policy and advocacy.
Wong said families may have had to visit several stores to find infant formula but efforts like Home Team Harvest help fund Safeway gift cards, which act as cash and helped offset transportation costs for families in need.
“Mothers who needed specific formulas because of their baby's dietary needs, driving as far as 15, 20 miles one way to get to a store," Wong said.
Moms like Curtis traveled even farther.
"There are times when I have to commute out of the area like an hour or two away to like Portland or Vancouver areas," Curtis said. "Our local retailers here in Cowlitz County struggled to keep our formula in stock.”
Northwest Harvest also face challenges in keeping their shelves stocked with formula. Curtis and Wong both encourage families to stay connected with other community partners in their search for formula.
"Continue to communicate with your pediatrician and try to network on social media, platforms and groups," Curtis said. "I had Kai at a very pivotal time. I had to figure it out.”
KING 5’s annual Home Team Harvest drive to benefit Northwest Harvest is underway. This year’s goal is to raise 21 million meals.
Ways to donate:
- Online at KING5.com/hometeamharvest
- Text “HOMETEAM” to 41444
- Starting Nov. 1, visit your local Safeway or Albertsons to give $5, $10 or $12 toward grocery cards.
Watch the Home Team Harvest broadcast special on Dec. 3 at 10 a.m. on KING 5, KING5.com and the KING 5 mobile app.