In the midst of a national crisis over a shortage of baby formula, one DC restaurateur is stepping up to help families in need. Medium Rare owner Mark Bucher, who launched hunger-fighting campaign Feed the Fridge early in the pandemic, is sourcing 100,000 bottles of ready-to-drink formula through grassroots methods. Like the free, nutritious meals that fill nine “community fridges” across DC, Montgomery County, and Prince George’s County, the tamper-proof bottles are free and available to anyone—no sign-ups, limits, or questions asked.
“Baby formula was just something we had to do—fast—and it was just an entrepreneur figuring it out,” says Bucher.
He quickly discovered that while powdered baby formula is in short supply, many shops are well-stocked with ready-drink bottles because they’re significantly more expensive and often not SNAP eligible. Bucher’s team then looked at demographics in the areas near where the fridges are located, and pinpointed stores in neighborhoods with high senior populations where formula isn’t in high demand.
“We hit every store by Leisure World [retirement community] in Silver Spring, and grabbed what we could—all while leaving the powdered product,” says Bucher.
Next, Bucher sent out the fridge signal to his American University fraternity brothers across the country. About a dozen live in Florida—senior living paradise—and found a bounty of formula bottles at Publix. They shipped cases on Southwest Airlines freight for a minimal cost, and the formula was ready to meet families lining up Bucher’s community fridges the next day.
“No one’s buying it. We’re essentially redistributing it—and making it free,” says Bucher. “Someone had to, and I move faster than the government does.”
Bucher says families are lining up daily for formula, and Feed the Fridge has gone through roughly 1,000 bottles so far. He’s pledged to keep the program going with 100,000 bottles over the next two-to-three weeks, and maybe longer.
“Hunger has no age requirement, so this may become a permanent thing,” says Bucher.
Feed the Fridge, which pays local restaurants to supply its meals, largely runs on monetary donations from individuals and small foundations; interested parties can donate here. Find a fridge near your community here.