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Restaurant owner taps baby formula stash — gives it away for free

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Washington working to ease baby formula crisis 05:48

A Texas restaurant owner and father of three has come to the rescue of hundreds of parents struggling to find infant formula amid a national shortage of the product. 

Determined to make a difference, Benji Arslanovski, owner of "Our Place" in Mansfield, Texas, recently reached out to US Foods, his restaurant's supplier, which also provides formula to hospitals and health care providers. 

"I thought, maybe nobody's looked at that avenue, and they hadn't," he told CBS MoneyWatch. 

Last week Arslanovski located 56 cases of Gerber baby formula in stock at US Foods. After checking with the company to ensure other retailers and health care centers weren't asking for the supply, he bought it all and started giving it away to parents in need.

"I cleared it with US Foods and made sure they didn't need it — I didn't want to make a health care facility suffer. Every day I would buy a little bit more, and eventually I bought it all. The first six cases went so quick," he said. 

Benji Arslanovski, a restaurant owner in Mansfield, Texas, said "no baby should go without" after donating  hundreds of cans of baby formula to parents and caregivers struggling to find the products amid a national shortage.  Courtesy of Benji Arslanovski

Many parents around the country have been forced to scour grocery stores only to find empty shelves after the largest baby formula manufacturing plant in the U.S. shut down in February over contamination concerns. Formula maker Abbott Nutrition also recalled various lots of its most popular formula brands. Supplies of baby formula have subsequently become scarce

Abbott has since struck an agreement with the White House that will allow it to reopen the plant within two weeks, pending approval from the Food and Drug Administration. Still, it could take months from when production restarts for enough formula to hit store shelves to meet families needs.

"No baby should go without"

Arslanovski announced that he had formula available on his restaurant's Facebook page. The response was immediate. 

"I said you don't need to eat here or be a customer — if you need some, come and get it because no baby should go without." 

Mom talks baby formula shortage 02:00

Arslanovski said he initially planned to charge parents and caregivers what he had paid for the formula, but ultimately decided to donate it. 

"I was originally going to charge the cost, but when the moms were so happy that they found some formula, I couldn't charge them," he said.

Within a week, Arslanovski had given away more than 300 cans of formula, or nearly $4,000 worth. He told CBS MoneyWatch he plans to continue buying formula as long as his distributor can stock it.

"I will be doing this for as long as I can get it or until production gets caught up," he said. 

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