"How am I supposed to diaper my child if I can't afford to buy 20 at a time like you can?"
Due to the health crisis that continues to shake the whole world, essential products are becoming hard to find in the market – including baby formula, wipes and diapers. This makes things particularly challenging for low-income-parents in the United States who are recipients of the Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) program. According to reports, other well-off parents have been hoarding the said items.
A low income mother, Catie Weimer of Utah has been having a hard time finding WIC-approved hypoallergenic formula Alimentum for her 7-month-old son Arlo for weeks now since the coronavirus crisis broke out. His son has a milk protein (or regular baby formula) allergy and he consumes four cans of Alimentum per month.
In her interview with The New York Times, aside from empty shelves of WIC-approved products, what added to her anxiety was the limitations on the size and quantity that she can buy per month as a recipient of WIC under Special Supplemental Nutrition Program.
“The way the checks work, if I only find three cans at a store, I can’t get a reimbursement to get an additional can later,” she lamented.
Even before the crisis, she can only find three or fewer cans of Alimentum, and that she is forced to buy the three, and wait until next month with the hopes that there will be more cans in the shelves. Fortunately, her mother and friends sometimes send her a can so her son will not go hungry.
Like Weimer, parents and caregivers in other states are having a hard time searching stores for baby products. Lauren Whitney, 36 years old and a mother of four, broke down at her local Walmart store in when she could not find the right diaper size for her daughter. She took her frustrations on TikTok and spoke against other parents for hoarding diapers.
“How am I supposed to diaper my child if I can’t afford to buy 20 at a time like you can?”
She also said in a BuzzFeed report that she never expected that her TikTok post will go viral. She eventually thought about deleting it but decided to keep it to let other parents know that “panic-buying and hoarding” practices are never a good idea. She emphasized that people under WIC benefits do not have the money to buy things they need right away when the trucks arrive because they get paid much later.
35-year-old Alia Anderson, who has three children (a 1-year-old, a 2-year-old, and a high schooler), shared that she went to five different stores and the shelves for wipes are all empty.
Karthik Natarajan, Supply Chain and Operations professor at the Carlson School of Management at the University of Minnesota, said the problem is not supply shortage but, like with toilet papers, a lot of Americans are hoarding those products off the shelves.
“This is mostly panic buying. Especially at the start of the shutdowns and quarantines, people were not sure how long this was going to last and how long they might not be able to get out. People ended up buying for weeks and even months at a time,” he said.
The National Diaper Bank Network also lamented that with the increasing number of unemployed citizens, they are expecting diaper supplies to dwindle and the demand to significantly increase. Chief executive official Joanne Goldblum said that supplies are going down because during the start of the crisis, they are no longer accepting open packages of diapers to prevent COVID-19 from spreading.
Austin Diaper Bank executive director Holly McDaniel said they normally at least 20,000 people in Central Texas who need diapers for their children a week. Since the virus broke out, they are now giving 50,000 diapers weekly and they are now getting 20 to 50 calls a day. Majority of the recipients, she said, were WIC families.
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