Sheila Friesen (left) and Kathereen Kessler with Meadow Rose Society. (Jenna Hauck/ The Progress)

Baby formula is one of the most needed hamper items in Chilliwack this holiday season

Although not always easily accessible, almost two-thirds of families formula feed their babies

Over the centuries, countless items have been invented and designed to help make the onset of parenthood easier, however, the needs of our infants haven’t changed: they need to be loved, kept warm and safe, and fed. Everything else, as they say, is just gravy.

And while that may sound easy enough, for many Chilliwack families, the struggle to feed their baby is one they were wholly unprepared for, as less than 30 per cent of Canadian mothers are able to exclusively breastfeed their infants for a variety of reasons.

”We feed formula because my daughter was born premature and couldn’t breastfeed because she was too weak,” wrote Daniessa Hendriks van Warbij in a Facebook message to this reporter.

Another mother wrote how her child was born allergic to lactose, which was passing through her breast milk, and so now they’re paying $75 a week for formula, which is a staggering amount when considering Statistics Canada reports the average household spends $214 per person on food each month.

“It’s hard to afford formula on mat pay,” wrote Sandra Hoft. “It’s lead to us needing to buy lower quality formula.”

However, other families have resorted to watering down formula with things like water, cow’s milk, or juice to make it last longer, making it one of the most needed items for organizations that offer supportive services to low-income families.

“Or sometimes they start them on pablum sooner than medically advised,” said Meadow Rose Society founder, Kathereen Kessler.

The non-profit society focuses its efforts on helping families with children under four, where there’s often a gap in services where babies are concerned. Soup kitchens and food banks can’t always help infants under six months because the children are limited to either breast milk or baby formula.

“In November, we gave away 47 large cans of formula,” continued Kessler. Every week the Society buys a dozen cans of formula to help those who walk through their doors. In October they saw 107 client visits in the 12 days they were open, and in the first week of December they saw six new clients.

“A high percentage of our clients bottle feed,” said Kessler. “We (help) grandmas, single dads (and moms), and the working poor who make a little too much to get help from welfare when they need it” because creating food security is important to reducing poverty.

In 2017, the Canadian Paediatric Society reported that while increasing breastfeeding rates may be “a step toward eradicating poverty,” there exists a breastfeeding paradox: infants of low-income families would have the most to gain from the health benefits of breast milk, but are the least likely to be breastfeed.

“For many of our clients, formula is the safest way to return to their preferred lifestyle,” said Sheila Friesen, co-executive director of Meadow Rose. And “it’s often the healthiest choice for babe due to mom’s diet or inability to eat healthy.”

However, the cost of formula is prohibitive to many who rely on it to nourish their babies.

“The price (is) hard to keep up with, especially being on mat leave, along with rent, bills, gas and groceries needed,” wrote Melissa Eileen in a Facebook conversation. The only way the young mother was able to afford to feed her child was by watching for sales, using coupons, and through the benefits she received by participating in a program on Seabird Island.

“My doctor also had sample cans of the formula we used, so that helped a lot too. We got a can every time we went to the doctor.

“And, of course, we were lucky enough to have family who helped us along the way so we never had to choose to make sacrifices,” said Eileen.

But not everyone has a family doctor or family, and are left reaching out to places like the Salvation Army Food Bank, or the Meadow Rose Society, who don’t always have enough formula to go around.

“We’re here to help out, not supply the entire month’s need,” said Kessler, but that doesn’t mean they like it when their formula shelf is empty before the week ends.

You can help

So to help fill the bellies of Chilliwack’s formula-fed babies this holiday season, The Chilliwack Progress is hosting a stage one and two baby formula drive, with all proceeds divided between the Salvation Army and Meadow Rose Society.

Going until January 4, The Progress will be accepting formula or cash donations at its downtown office (45860 Spadina Ave.), Monday through Friday, from 8:30 a.m. until 5 p.m.

For more information on the formula drive, please email Sarah.Gawdin@TheProgress.com, or Jenna.Hauck@TheProgress.com. For more information about the Meadow Rose Society or the Salvation Army, please visit their websites at MeadowRoseSociety.com and SalvationArmycChilliwack.ca/care-and-share/food-bank.

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