Zainah Ott – High school student whose community drive strengthened an entire safety net for families, children, and babies living at or below the federal poverty line.
The Formula Crisis of 2022 had families across the country and the state of Wisconsin scrambling to find formula to feed their babies. Here in Fond du Lac County, it was no different. The Family Resource Center of Fond du Lac County (FRC) focused its resources to ensure families across the city, county, and beyond were able to feed their babies. This shift in resources had left the FRC’s Distribution Center susceptible to shortages in other areas serving women, children, and infants. Annually, the Distribution Center delivers about 30,000 essential infant and child items to the most vulnerable in the Fond du Lac communities. This community safety net was left unstable until Zainah Ott came along.
Zainah’s first exposure to the FRC came when she was very young. Born at St. Agnes Hospital in Fond du Lac, Zainah’s mother came to the FRC for services and received formula during a similar crisis when Zainah was just an infant. But it was years later, shopping with her mother for baby supplies for her new brother that she had the idea to give back. Zainah couldn’t believe how much it cost to provide the basics and wondered how families in tough financial situations could afford to meet their child’s needs. Coming full circle, Zainah was directed to the FRC by her mother.
Zainah approached the FRC months prior to the 2022 Formula Crisis and received approval to organize a community drive for the Distribution Center. Zainah put together a business plan and wrote proposals to businesses and schools across Fond du Lac to host donation drive boxes. Boxes were placed around the community from St. Mary Spring’s Academy to local groceries stores and maintained by Zainah. In May 2022, Zainah came to the FRC with two pick-up truck beds packed with essential infant and child’s aid. Zainah made a donation of over 2,000 infant and child items including diapers, wipes, sippy cups, etc.
“Without a doubt, Zainah’s charitable project and donation made this community safety net stronger at the time of the crisis, especially when our funds were focused on addressing the Formula Crisis. I remember the donation; it was not your typical everyday donation. It filled an entire conference room and took staff several days to inventory. Absolutely amazing stuff.”Jessica Schowalter, Officer Manager
Zainah’s contribution is impressive, but even more so when considering the challenges that she has had to overcome. Zainah has had numerous medical challenges that have drastically affected her education. From sixth to eighth grade, Zainah was missing up to 80 days of school each year due to medical issues and surgeries, which caused her to fall behind in her education and social life. Zainah transitioned from public school to E-Achieve Academy out of Waukesha, WI. There she was still able to receive a quality education while prioritizing her health. Zainah is a co-president of the National Honors Society at the academy and is graduating early this spring. Passionate about children and mental health, Zainah will be pursuing Psychology at Michigan Tech this upcoming fall.