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Arlington boutique owner organizes baby formula drive to help moms

Current Boutique owner Carmen Lopez stands next to the donation drop off box (courtesy of Carmen Lopez)

Arlington resident Carmen Lopez has heard stories about panicked moms scrambling to find baby formula.

Lopez, owner of local fashion chain Current Boutique, said one mom couldn’t find the formula she needed and ordered it online. But she was afraid it wouldn’t come in time.

“She’s called family members in Florida, in California, in New York, just to send her formula because it’s a specific formula that she needs for her baby,” Lopez said.

Many mothers in the D.C. area face similar situations as there’s a shortage of formula across the country. The out-of-stock rate for baby formula in Virginia was 64.3% as of May 28, which was lower than the national average of 74%, according to Bloomberg.

As a mom, Lopez wanted to help other moms.

So, she partnered with The Napkin Network, a D.C. nonprofit focused on giving moms in need baby formula, diapers and wipes. She and The Napkin Network founder Lindsay Gill organized a donation drive at Current Boutique stores.

“A friend actually told me about what [The Napkin Network was] doing and I thought, ‘How could I help?’ Because I have heard from moms, from people that I know that are struggling to get formula,” Lopez said.

Through Tuesday, July 19, there will be drop boxes at each of the three Current Boutique locations in Clarendon (2601 Wilson Blvd.), Old Town Alexandria (1009 King Street) and Logan Circle (1318 14th Street NW, D.C.).

A donation box for baby formula inside a Current Boutique store (courtesy of Carmen Lopez)

Those who donate receive a 20% discount when shopping at the boutique, and can also receive tax donations receipts at the drop-off locations. The baby formula donated needs to be unopened and unexpired.

Around 100 mothers a week receive a new can of baby formula from the donation drives organized by Gill, who is a mother using baby formula in Rockville, Md.

“The formula that’s not picked up on site, we’ve given out to partner organizations in the Washington D.C. area,” she said.

One such organization is Feed the Fridge, which places refrigerators around the D.C. area and pays local restaurants to fill them with fresh meals. The organization is now distributing baby formula at 10 locations in Maryland and D.C.

“Hopefully it’ll be an ongoing initiative,” Gill said.

Lindsay Gill, founder of The Napkin Network, poses with diapers (courtesy of Hilary Phelps)

Although The Napkin Network was founded to collect and distribute diapers and wipes, the nonprofit has put a pause to collecting those to focus on formula.

“The Napkin Network has sort of paused all other efforts in terms of collecting diapers, wipes, and we’re still doing it but it’s on the back burner because we really have to focus on formula,” Gill said.

Since the drive began, there have been a couple of donations at each of the Current Boutique stores, most of which were the Similac formula, Lopez said.

“I think what we’ve been doing since Tuesday is just spreading the word,” she said.

Several baby formulas are more in demand than others. Enfamil Gentlease, which advertises itself as “easing fussiness, gas and crying,” is a popular request. It is currently listed as out of stock on its manufacturer’s website. Another popular one is Similac, which is covered by the Virginia Women, Infants and Children assistance program, Gill said.

At a roundtable with Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.), Gill saw mothers crying because they could not get specific formulas for their infants with allergies, which cannot be substituted.

“The moms there were literally in tears, asking Sen. Kaine, ‘What are you doing? My baby is starving,'” Gill said.

Other nonprofits in the area collecting diapers and baby formula include the Greater DC Diaper Bank. It has over 160 donation drop locations in the Metro area, according to the group’s website, including six in Arlington. Its Baby Pantry also accepts donations of baby formula and food at the same drop locations as the diapers.

This feature story was funded by members of the ARLnow Press Club and originally ran in the club’s weekend newsletter.

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