Foundation scrambles to undo error

What are you wearing? (Heavy breathing.) A baby backpack?

If that sounds odd, it’s because the situation is odd: The state contracted with Chico State University’s Research Foundation to produce calendars to serve as a resource for low-income pregnant women, but in an embarrassing slip-up a number for a nutrition helpline turned into that of a phone sex hotline.

Katie Milo, the chair of Chico State’s Journalism Department who directs the Family Planning Outreach Project, found her team spending the holidays rushing to recover thousands of the Spanish-language calendars.

Members of the project, which includes staff members from the Research Foundation plus some students, found out about the mistake on Dec. 21, when an official in San Diego tried the number and got more than was bargained for on the other end of the line. “It was a shock,” Milo said.

She said the team has been working nonstop since then, contacting the places the calendars were sent, mailing out return envelopes—even physically driving around to pick up the calendars.

Blanca Castro, spokeswoman for the state Department of Social Services, said only 850 of the 32,000 calendars were actually distributed to teen mothers, and the state has received no complaints from clients.

The calendars, which the university was paid $18,000 to produce, were part of a larger project in which products ranging from fliers to magnets were made. The foundation has had the about-$600,000 contract for five years, Milo said.

The team had the calendars translated from English to Spanish, and the system designed to catch such errors—people actually call the numbers to make sure the right party answers—broke down. “It was a data entry error that wasn’t caught at a number of different levels,” Milo said. The “888” in the toll-free number was switched to “800.”

Milo said that while the error may seem funny, it is disappointing to the outreach team, whose mission is to connect people in need to information.

The Research Foundation is working with the Department of Social Services to determine whether and how the calendars should be reprinted. “It’s not a blame game right now,” Castro said.

"We’re taking this very seriously," she added. "We’re making sure this doesn’t happen again."