What started as a way to find formula for her infant has turned into much more for Flower Mound’s Jennifer Walton.
When she launched DFW Formula Fed Babies on May 10 on Facebook, she figured 50 area people would follow her. Within 24 hours, people throughout Texas joined and by the first two weeks, she had 2,400 members nationwide and dropped DFW from the name. By late June it was at around 4,000.
“This is so great. I can’t believe it’s working,” she said. “I’ve had only 3-4 people who have successfully taken advantage of people and are just evil.
“I try really hard to educate people on how to protect yourself and how to get proof, how to pay for things when buying from a stranger because there are good people shopping and shipping. And there are so many out there who aren’t parents who don’t have any children at all. A lot of retirees have been helping out and taking pictures and have been really cool.”
She started posting twice a day in two categories “In Search of” and “Available Formula.” In June, she split the available formula posts into morning and afternoon.
“This has been really, really unifying. I don’t think you can find anyone who says let the babies go hungry,” said Walton, a construction coordinator for Polk Mechanical. “It’s been really cool. I work with a bunch of guys in construction and they will send pictures of what they find at stores in the area.”
The idea is for people to share where they’ve seen formula so people can either pick it up themselves or ask the people to ship it to them and pay it back later. Users also share economical shipping options.
“It’s just a group of helpers is how I have been describing it to people,” she said. “This is not our job to do it but we’re doing it and we’re helping a lot of people every single day.”
Walton’s efforts began after the Abbott Similac plant in Sturgis, Michigan, which made the formula her now 8½-month-old daughter Stella drank shut down because of a voluntary recall.
“The problem was that plant produced 40 percent of the formula in America,” Walton said.
She initially tried switching Stella to a comparable alternative but her baby refused to drink it. She did have success with a Sam’s Club version of Stella’s favorite but eventually supplies of that brand ran out here. Her brother-in-law Zach Walton and friend Haley Miller were able to find some at Sam’s Clubs in Nashville and Los Angeles, respectively, but she finished that in mid-June.
After talking to her pediatrician, she was able to switch to a formula brought over from Europe and in stock at area Target stores. However, she knew not everyone was as fortunate as her and thus she started the Facebook page. In so doing, she learned about low-income women who can afford formula only through the WIC federal program.
“I’ll never forget the night I realized how privileged we are to not have to worry about this,” Walton said. “I can’t imagine what it’s like to go can to can and be on your last can.”
Throughout everything, Walton has been torn because only a small number of companies make formulas in the U.S. but all are heavily regulated for quality.
“I don’t want the FDA (U.S. Food and Drug Administration) to lift regulations but don’t necessarily want to make it easier but more cost effective for more companies to get started,” she said.
Walton’s ultimate goal is for there to be no need for her Facebook page. That day is delayed because soon after the Similac plant in Michigan reopened to focus on medically necessary formula, bad weather caused flooding that shut it down again.
“Everyone was so hopeful for August because it takes about two months for a batch of formula to hit the shelves,” Walton said. Now we don’t know because it’s shut down again. I hope it’s not until the end of the year.”