Amid scramble for infant formula, Elk Grove Village milk bank sees increase in demand

  • Summer Kelly, executive director of Mothers' Milk Bank of the Western Great Lakes, points to 100 mL containers of pasteurized donor milk at the nonprofit's processing facility in Elk Grove Village. The bottom shelves contain new donations yet to be pasteurized.

      Summer Kelly, executive director of Mothers' Milk Bank of the Western Great Lakes, points to 100 mL containers of pasteurized donor milk at the nonprofit's processing facility in Elk Grove Village. The bottom shelves contain new donations yet to be pasteurized. Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

  • At the Elk Grove Village-based Mothers' Milk Bank of the Western Great Lakes, Executive Director Summer Kelly checks one of the multiple freezers that holds 100 mL containers of pasteurized, donated milk. She says the nonprofit has seen an uptick in demand for the milk, amid the nationwide baby formula shortage.

      At the Elk Grove Village-based Mothers' Milk Bank of the Western Great Lakes, Executive Director Summer Kelly checks one of the multiple freezers that holds 100 mL containers of pasteurized, donated milk. She says the nonprofit has seen an uptick in demand for the milk, amid the nationwide baby formula shortage. Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

  • Jose Zepeda, plant manager, and Mark Bannon, lab coordinator, at Mothers' Milk Bank of the Western Great Lakes, drop milk into water as part of the pasteurization process at a processing facility in Elk Grove Village.

      Jose Zepeda, plant manager, and Mark Bannon, lab coordinator, at Mothers' Milk Bank of the Western Great Lakes, drop milk into water as part of the pasteurization process at a processing facility in Elk Grove Village. Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

  • Summer Kelly, executive director of Mothers' Milk Bank of the Western Great Lakes, said the Elk Grove Village-based nonprofit has seen a 20% increase in demand for donated milk as infant formula has become increasingly hard to find on store shelves.

      Summer Kelly, executive director of Mothers' Milk Bank of the Western Great Lakes, said the Elk Grove Village-based nonprofit has seen a 20% increase in demand for donated milk as infant formula has become increasingly hard to find on store shelves. Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

 
 
Updated 5/13/2022 11:45 PM

Amid a nationwide baby formula shortage, suburban parents are driving from store to store to try to get their hands on some, or they're turning to alternative options like a milk bank in Elk Grove Village.

Supply chain problems, coupled with a February recall of contaminated formula at an Abbott manufacturing plant, have parents scrambling to find the pricey powder at pharmacies and retailers big and small.

 

Diana Zagol, a Schaumburg mother of two including a 2-month-old daughter, has posted her dilemma on social media and called and driven to stores near and far throughout the suburbs in search of infant formula.

After writing a message to a Schaumburg community Facebook group, Zagol received donations of eight pediatrician sample cans from parents who didn't need them. Another person was able to find formula, and Zagol paid her for it.

Then on Thursday night, Zagol said she got a message from another mother who was able to purchase a two-pack of Enfamil NeuroPro formula at the Costco in St. Charles that morning.

Zagol says she's been disappointed before, having driven to stores and finding that formula is sold out. But she and her husband took a chance and headed to St. Charles, arriving at the wholesale club about a half-hour before closing.

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There were only 10 packs left, out of 220 stocked on the shelves that morning, a store employee told her. Each double pack containing a total of 41 ounces retails for $42.99.

"I'm lucky. But what about all those other people? I know very well I'm not the only one. There's literally thousands of people in my situation," Zagol said.

At Mothers' Milk Bank of the Western Great Lakes -- the only such nonprofit providing pasteurized, donated human breast milk to families in Illinois and Wisconsin -- the demand for milk has increased by 20% in recent weeks as infant formula has become increasingly hard to find on store shelves.

"We have milk available to any family," said Summer Kelly, executive director of the milk bank, which opened its processing facility in Elk Grove in 2016. "Let's say for example a family goes and they're unable to find a formula. They can reach out to us and we can provide a couple of days of milk just to kind of get them through that short-term use. Because donor milk is not really intended for long-term use for healthy babies. It's really for short-term emergency use, and a formula shortage is a good example of that."

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

The organization distributes about three-quarters of the milk that it receives and pasteurizes to neonatal intensive care and specialty care units at some 70 hospitals, but the remainder is available for purchase at more than a dozen dispensaries throughout Illinois, including locations in Bloomingdale, Elmhurst, Hinsdale, Mundelein, Naperville, Northbrook and Skokie.

The cost for a 4-ounce bottle of milk averages $18-20, Kelly said.

For infants used to formula -- but whose parents are in a pinch -- pasteurized donor milk can be a safe, suitable substitute, said Kelly, a registered nurse who helped develop the first donor human milk program at Advocate Lutheran General Hospital's neonatal intensive care unit in Park Ridge in 2011.

From 60 milk drop-off sites in Illinois and Wisconsin, the product is brought to the Elk Grove processing facility to be heated -- ridding it of bacteria and viruses -- and chemically tested. Donors must be blood-tested and go through a medical screening and health history review.

From donation to distribution, the whole process takes up to two weeks, Kelly said.

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