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Families growing desperate as nationwide baby formula shortage continues

EAST PATCHOGUE, N.Y. - The nationwide baby formula shortage may be worsening, and as families grow helpless to feed their babies, there's a warning for parents. As CBS2's Nick Caloway reports, this all comes as parents grow increasingly desperate

New York's Attorney General is urging parents to watch out for price gouging on baby formula and warning retailers it's illegal.

Parents are also being told to look out for online scams that could be dangerous for children.

As CBS2's Nick Caloway reports, this all comes as parents grow increasingly desperate.

Brian Barnett has experienced the desperation firsthand.

"You know, we would just literally zig-zag across Long Island just looking for formula," he said.

He and his wife have spent countless hours scouring Long Island for specializing formula for their 11-month-old son, Christopher.

"I mean, there's been times we've fed our son in a BJ's parking lot because we found a bottle in the middle of the night," Barnett said.

Barnett is not alone.

Watch Jennifer McLogan's report

L.I. charity offers free baby formula amid nationwide shortage 02:08

Struggling to find their baby's formula, Long Island parents are getting help from a Suffolk County grassroots charity. CBS2's Jennifer McLogan was there as emotional moms and dads got a small, coveted supply, much of it donated - and free. 

Gina and Louis Cheeseman of Sound Beach say they are desperate. 

"Of all things, baby formula. How are going to deprive a baby of food?" Gina Cheeseman told McLogan. "We feel helpless."

Their son Matteo has milk allergies. They drove 35 miles to procure one needed can. 

"It's getting the word out: We can share resources," said Debbie Loesch, who founded Angels of Long Island, an East Patchogue grassroots charity. 

"They are the angels of Long Island," one grandmother told McLogan. 

"This morning, I was just scraping the bottom of the can of what we had left," said Rich Stack of West Islip. 

Stack says his son Chase needs a specialized formula. 

Ryan Fernandez searched through seven stores. 

"That's the thing. It's trying to find the formula you need," Fernandez said. 

The nonprofit posted on social media it has a small supply and urged others to bring in formula for the sharing table. Kelly Mancuso donated multiple cans she no longer needed since her twins were switched to soy. 

"I'm just hoping somebody can use it," Mancuso said. 

"My dad's a truck driver. He's gone all up and down on the road, East Coast. I tell him if you see anything, stop, grab it," said Marianna Kortright of Central Islip.

Some parents told McLogan they need to stretch supplies, and are wondering about diluting baby formula to make it last longer.

"We heard this, and I'll tell you. It sends chills down your spine," said pediatrician Dr. John Zaso. "This is probably the most dangerous thing a parent can do with formula." 

Zaso warns watering down formula can cause seizures and brain swelling. 

"That can be neurologically devastating and potentially fatal to a child," Zaso said. 

Parents in the know will use the free two-week supply correctly. 

"It's a half a month that I don't have to stress out about how to feed him," one parent said. 

"We are happy to give it, and we will get through this together," Loesch said. 

Making a real difference. 

Angels of Long Island has helped dozens of babies this week as doctors continue to urge parents to follow formula instructions carefully. 

  • For more information about Angels of Long Island, CLICK HERE

It's not just on Long Island.

The formula aisle at a supermarket in Wyckoff, New Jersey, and Dr. Larry Stiefel, a pediatrician in Paramus, worries desperate parents will try to use formula incorrectly.

"We worry they may start to dilute it, which means the children won't be getting enough calories," he said. "We're even hearing of people trying to make their own formulas, which is clearly not a good idea because the formulas are specifically designed to mimic breast milk."

The shortage started after formula giant Abbott recalled Similac and other brands in February.

New Jersey Rep. Frank Pallone said the FDA is working with companies to ramp up production.

"And so we're having a hearing on May 25th to try to get to the bottom of it, and in the meantime talking with FDA, talking to Abbott, talking to the White House to see what can be done," he said.

Some parents say they've had to get creative, turning to social media to ask for help in tracking down specific types of formulas or asking relatives in other parts of the country to mail them some.

Doctors say parents who are struggling to find formula should call their pediatrician. In many cases, they can provide samples or even work with distributors to get certain types of formula.

EMERGENCY COMPONENT - LOCAL

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