Coronavirus kindness: South Bay nonprofit collecting baby formula for families in need

SAN JOSE, Calif. (KGO) -- South Bay nonprofit, Empower & Excel, is setting out to help mothers struggling to find basic necessities for their babies during the novel coronavirus pandemic.

Officials in hard-hit Santa Clara County said the region's biggest needs right now, especially for single moms, include formula and diapers. Some of the most expensive items needed to care for newborns.

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Pandemic panic buying has left some store shelves barren. ABC7 News has reported on people clearing shelves of toilet paper, hand-sanitizer and other supplies.

In this situation, we're learning what others have hoarded can impact the health of infants. Especially those who were recently born into low-income communities.

"There is a lot of need for baby formula and diapers," Ayesha Charagulla said. "These families have lost a significant income, or lost their jobs due to this outbreak."



Charagulla is the president and CEO of Empower & Excel.

She explained, after speaking with a Santa Clara County official, her organization put out calls to local pediatricians.

Her son Nihaar Charagulla is leading the youth effort to collect formula and funds for those families.

"Overall, we've been able to collect 200 cans of baby formula and we just started like a week ago," he said. "As well as $500 worth of donations."

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Ayesha Charagulla added, "Based on that calculation, we can give away two cans per family. At least, they can live up for two months happily without worrying what to feed their babies."

Charmayne Moran with the Santa Clara County Probation Department explained the donations will go to 75 women across East San Jose.

"Some of the families that live there are obviously families who have a lot of need," she described. "Who don't have resources to go out and buy formula and diapers especially during COVID-19."

Moran said those being served aren't already getting assistance from the county.

"Particularly those individuals who are less connected to services. So, families who are hard to reach, or families who are not involved in the child welfare system," she said. "Or who are not accessing services through the FRC because the county is in collaboration with First Five and with other county departments."

Moran said the donations will be handed out at an upcoming scheduled food distribution.

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"There's a large amount of single moms with more than two children in the household. So, we know that there's a need," she said.

If you're interested in learning more about the community receiving the donations, click here.

Dr. Baraka Floyd is an outpatient general pediatrician at Stanford Children's Hospital. Her focus is serving the mid-Peninsula's low-income population.

"For low-income families, being able to afford formula at all can be challenging. Which is why services like WIC are so important," she said.

However, COVID-19 isn't making it easy.

"What we're finding is for a lot of families, they are having to physically go to the store, find that there's no formula. Then they have to contact the store manager, or contact the store to find out when there will be formula," she explained. "And then try to time going back out in the context of having a newborn, an additional person in your family, other children you might be dealing with. And then also having to deal with all of the worries and stress that we're all feeling right now."

Additionally, Floyd said, "Because of panic buying and things of that nature, there's not enough formula for those who need it."

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Pediatricians told ABC7 News some mothers are getting desperate, and are turning to dairy or diluting. Both measures can be dangerous.

Dr. Pronoti Nigam with Evergreen Pediatrics Inc. in San Jose said, "Cow milk can cause microscopic bleeding and anemia. So, we don't recommend it before the first birthday."

Diluting formula means that instead of mixing the formula per the manufacturer's instructions, some mothers are trying to ration their supply.

So, they're adding more water to the powder.

Dr. Floyd explained why that could harm the baby.

"One, it obviously decreases the amount of nutrition that your baby's getting that they need to grow. And really, their only job in the first few months is to grow," she said. "The other part that's actually really dangerous, is for young babies especially, their young bodies don't handle water in the same way that you or I do."

For now, Empower & Excel continues to partner with others in the community, collecting baby formula for families struggling during COVID-19.

For more information on this effort, visit the nonprofit organization's website here.

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