We’ve all seen the empty store shelves that used to be filled with hand sanitizer. It went from a commodity we rarely thought about to the hottest of commodities in the blink of an eye. After COVID-19 began ravaging the country, the hand sanitizer shortage hit those on the front lines hardest.
“We couldn’t imagine nurses, doctors, or first responders being able to do their jobs without hand sanitizer, so we immediately began working with local distilleries to see what we could quickly produce and distribute,” said Dr. Ethan Karp, President and CEO of MAGNET.
The first company on board was Cleveland Whiskey. MAGNET helped design the technology they use to produce whiskey, so we were able to help them quickly retool and pivot to hand sanitizer. Working with the Cleveland Clinic we all collaborated to formulate, blend, and bottle WHO-formulated sanitizer for more than 50,000 caregivers across Cleveland Clinic’s main campus and 11 regional hospitals in Ohio.
“We are grateful for Cleveland Whiskey’s support as we navigate this evolving situation,” said Allison Riffle, assistant director of Pharmacy at Cleveland Clinic. “Hand sanitizer is a vital component that helps us protect our caregivers and patients. It was important to us to identify a local supplier that could meet the FDA requirements and work quickly with us to meet our health system’s demand.”
A whiskey distillery and a hospital may seem like an unlikely partnership, but one thousand bottles of hand sanitizer prove it was exactly the right alliance to help protect healthcare workers and patients from the deadly virus.
“We jumped at the chance to collaborate with Cleveland Clinic to help supply the system with hand sanitizer,” said Tom Lix, founder and CEO of Cleveland Whiskey. “Our mission is to make good whiskey and do the right thing, and this is definitely doing the right thing. This will help protect both frontline healthcare workers and the patients they care for. It’s the best way we can help our community.”
Cleveland Whiskey also produced and donated hand sanitizer to first responders in the Cleveland area. To further expand production, MAGNET identified more than 30 other manufacturers willing and able to convert to producing hand sanitizer. There was plenty of the raw material, ethanol. But nothing suitable to package the final product in. Virtually no small bottles or spray tops were available locally. Almost all of the spray dispensers are made overseas and impossible to get right now.
“The supply chain was much more complex than it first appeared. Then we figured out a fix. If the bottle-making industry can’t flex up as quickly as companies can make hand sanitizer, then perhaps we could drive down the need for small bottles by reusing them. It was much easier to find larger 1 to 3-gallon bottles. We asked everyone to stockpile their small 4 to 12-ounce bottles and dispensing closures. And we decided to produce ‘kits’ that contained three large one-gallon bottles of hand sanitizer with small bottles that could each be refilled 4-5 times,” said Adam Snyder, Managing Partner, Sector Partnership at MAGNET.
This solved the bottle shortage problem and allowed several companies working with the Ohio Manufacturing Alliance to Fight COVID-19 to donate 1,350 kits to be distributed by the State of Ohio to food banks, nursing homes, and 12 Area Agencies on Aging (AAAs). These Agencies will use the sanitizer to protect home and community-based workers and the older people they care for, deliver meals to and take to medical appointments. That’s more than 4,000 gallons of hand sanitizer – enough to fill a small tanker truck.
“Even during these tough times, Ohioans and Ohio companies continue to be generous. Many thanks to those who donated these important materials,” Governor Mike DeWine said. “We are making sure these donations are getting into the hands of Ohio protectors that need them.”
Procter & Gamble donated the hand sanitizer. Cleveland Whiskey donated its services to bottle and process the sanitizer into kits. Axium, a manufacturer of plastic containers with operations in Columbus, donated bottles. MAGNET donated pour spouts and cartons and brought all the partners together to make this happen.
“The level of support from Ohio manufacturers has been simply extraordinary. Many of us feel so helpless watching the tragic toll COVID-19 is taking on families and communities. It feels incredibly good to be able to come together and actually do something to help,” said Dr. Karp.
And MAGNET is not stopping here. The next phase of the donation project is to produce many more hand sanitizer kits and distribute them through the seven Urban League chapters in Ohio.
“The Urban League of Greater Cleveland is pleased to organize an effort in collaboration with our six other Urban League affiliates across the State of Ohio to distribute sanitizer kits into our minority communities,” said Marsha Mockabee, CEO of the Urban League of Greater Cleveland. “We applaud this partnership that will provide the kits and this opportunity to support small businesses, churches and community organizations in Akron, Canton, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Columbus, Lorain County and Warren/ Youngstown.”
MAGNET will also continue to work with manufacturers across the region to help them repurpose to make hand sanitizer. Companies such as Dubois Chemical and Middle West Distillery are now selling their hand sanitizer on the Ohio Emergency PPE Maker’s Exchange. This online marketplace helps connect manufacturers to smaller buyers in need of supplies such as nursing homes, police forces, and other emergency personnel.