Texas restaurant owner gives out free baby formula to families in need amid shortage

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  • Amid the ongoing baby formula shortage, nearly 40% of popular brands are sold out across the country.
  • Benji Arslanovski, who owns Our Place Restaurant in Texas, has worked to distribute baby formula to local families in need, free of charge.
  • So far, Our Place has distributed 56 cases of baby formula, and plans to keep going.

Amid the ongoing infant formula shortage, families across the country are struggling with the uncertainty of empty shelves. And a restaurant owner in Texas has decided to help his community by giving out cans free of charge.

“The need is just tremendous,” Benji Arslanovski, who owns Our Place Restaurant, told USA TODAY. Our Place’s location in Mansfield, Texas started distributing free baby formula to parents in the area late last week.

“The message is, ‘Help your neighbor,'” Arslanovski said.

Nearly 40% of popular baby formula brands were sold out at retailers across the country at the end of April, according to a recent analysis by Datasembly – worsening the shortage from 31% two weeks prior.

Last week, the Food and Drug Administration said that it is “doing everything in our power” to improve the supply of baby formula. And President Joe Biden said he thought it would be a matter of weeks in terms of getting significantly more formula on shelves – adding that his administration has to “move with caution as well as speed.”

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Still, many parents are running out of options. And although Arslanovski doesn’t need formula for his own kids who are 2, 4 and 6 years old, the restaurant owner wanted to help other parents in need.

Arslanovski used to work as the health care account manager at US Foods and currently purchases from the foodservice distributor for his restaurant. Last week, he saw that US Foods had baby formula in stock and after calling to confirm, decided to purchase some.

He first bought six cases to distribute on Saturday and “in not even a day, it was gone,” he said.

Arslanovski has since purchased more and more, posting updates on Our Place’s Facebook page so that parents know when cans are available – which can be picked up one at a time per family. Families can call the day before delivery to reserve a can, and the rest is given away on a first-come, first-serve basis.

So far, Our Place in Mansfield has distributed a total of 56 cases (224 cans) of Gerber’s Gentle Pro infant formula – with a local hospital donating an additional 105 cans. Our Place’s other location in Burleson, Texas has also distributed some.

Arslanovski decided to give the formula away for free after “watching the moms and dads who needed it so bad. Some moms were crying [because they] weren’t able to get it to hold them over,” he said. “The community has been great to me during COVID. Business would stop by, they would tip servers, even though we weren’t open for dining… Every day was a blessing. So this is my way of returning the favor of how they took care of me.”

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Tranda Franklin, who was searching for formula for her 10-month-old grandson, told The Dallas Morning News that she called Our Place after hearing about the restaurant’s formula distribution through a friend. Staff took down her name and number to let her know when the delivery arrived.

“They called me to tell me the formula had come, and when I got there they had a can waiting for me,” Franklin told Dallas Morning News. “This is such a blessing. It’s been very stressful. With gas prices like they are and having to go from place to place looking for formula only to be unsuccessful, it’s very difficult. We were on our last can of formula for my grandson and we only had enough to make about three to four more bottles.”

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For the foreseeable future, Arslanovski plans to keep purchasing and giving away as much formula as he can.

“If they have it in stock, I’m gonna buy it. Keep doing it until I feel like either they don’t have it or they catch up with production,” Arslanovski said. “Hopefully our country can catch up with the formula… and everything soon. [It’s been] difficult times.”