In a year of rising inflation and seemingly decreasing supply at stores, nothing concerned families more than the shortage of baby formula.
Yet the shrinking supply brought families together to ensure the most vulnerable mouths were fed.
“People are willing to help...we’re all in it for the same reason,” said Marcela Young, a Houston-area mother of a 9-month-old. “We care, we all have kids, we all care about feeding them.”
Young, who does not formula feed her baby, saw the empty store aisles and thought about her friends who do rely on formula. So, Young decided to fight back against the shortage.
Using an interactive mapping program, Proxi, created by a classmate, Young created a map that could connect parents from across the country with formula options.
“In a way, I was helping facilitate crowdsourcing information for people to constantly look and check for updates and go out and seek the formula they need,” said Young.
How to use the formula map
The map program was initially used by people traveling who wanted to mark restaurants or other areas to check out.
The map uses various icons to signify where a parent might be able to source a specific kind of formula. For example, if a person sees there’s a specific type of formula at a store in Houston, they can take a picture and upload it with other relevant information. A parent searching for that formula could see it and either reach out to the person who posted it or drive to the store.
The map also marks milk banks, people who can donate formula and those who are seeking formula. The map tools allow people to engage with one another to track down formula.
Young used the power of social media to spread the word about the map and she quickly saw tens of thousands of people viewing it and hundreds of more adding pinpoints.
“It’s felt really good,” said Young. “Even if I help just one or two families, that makes me feel good because that means a baby is getting fed.”
The maps capability to expand across the United States has also helped families get access to other markets that may have more formula.
- Don’t rush to the store to buy formula if you don’t need it! It is great to want to help families, but you might be taking away formula from a parent in your community.
- Young says you can buy that formula if you have someone in mind rather than buying it and “hoping someone claims it from you.”
Beware of formula scammers
Despite having a fulltime job and being a fulltime mom, Young has taken on the massive project of updating and maintaining the map, as well as connecting people on the baby formula map.
“It’s super satisfying, but it’s also a lot of work that I’ve created for myself,” said Young.
Parents are not only fighting to find formula, but fighting to avoid getting scammed online. Young says the scammers are persistent.
“I constantly monitor the page and we’ve got lists of scammers,” said Young. “I also moderate another formula group and we constantly talk with each other and updating each other about them, the tactics that they use.”
Young has a list of dozens of names or variation of names that have attempted to or managed to scam a parent. She says they’re persistent and will often use different email addresses.
You can check out that list here on the Fighting the Formula Shortage Facebook page.
The future of crowdsourcing
The baby formula shortage is the latest in a series of supply chain issues over the last couple of years.
The United States has seen shortages in everything from technology and food, to housing and medicines.
But Young believes crowdsourcing could help combat supply chain shortages in other sectors.
“One example I’ve thought of would be insulin. God forbid we go through an insulin shortage, but just cases like that,” said Young. “But specifically for formula, I see the future potentially going out of the country.”
Young says this tool could help other countries dealing with food insecurities. She believes it could also get people to volunteer to help others in need.
Another hope is that companies or stores could step up and use the idea to help people connect with those critical items in short supply.