Analy High grads create Disinfect Connect, a database connecting distilleries with nursing homes, hospitals that need hand sanitizer
It started with his grandmother, the people who take care of her and their desperate efforts to find the supplies they need to ensure she and other elderly residents stay safe from the scourge of coronavirus.
Amid a nationwide shortage of hand sanitizer and other disinfectants that nursing homes, hospitals and most everyone else relies on to stop the spread of germs, Analy High School graduate Miles Pepper wanted to help.
His idea: connect those most in need of such products with those who might provide them.
The result is Disinfect Connect, an online database whipped together last week by Pepper, a close friend from the class of 2013 and a variety of others, including several other Analy alumni, who volunteered their skills and time to make the project a reality.
With distilleries recently granted authorization to begin manufacturing hand sanitizer from high-proof alcohol, Pepper and his team hoped to build a bridge to ensure vulnerable populations were first in line to receive it. Now they're focusing, as well, on advancing the manufacture and provision of multipurpose disinfectant sprays made primarily from beverage alcohol, since spray sanitizers are now in short supply, as well.
“What we're hoping to build is a way that a care facility or one of the essential organizations that needs disinfectant can have direct communication with a new supplier and not have to worry that they're never going to see disinfectant again,” Pepper said by phone from Portland, where he recently moved from Los Angeles.
It's not clear how much help distilleries need finding new clients: local owners say they're being inundated with inquiries, even if they haven't yet produced a drop of hand sanitizer.
Others already have decided to distribute their new products locally, at least to start.
“There's a lot of people that need help, but we want to help the folks in our direct community first and foremost,” said Jason Jorgensen, who owns Alley 6 Craft Distillery in Healdsburg with his wife, Krystle.
But Pepper and his crew - close friend Nick Rose, brothers Gabe Pepper, Jordi Hays, Eric Agresti and Colin McAfee, all Analy grads - have about 100 volunteers working to contact and map distilleries across the nation that are now embarking on new product lines made necessary by the coronavirus pandemic.
More than 400 so far report making hand sanitizer, Pepper said
Timo Marshall, co-owner of Spirit Works Distillery in Sebastopol, said he knows word of Disinfect Connect has gotten out because some of the “nonstop” calls reference the website. He and his wife already plan to supply only first responders and hospitals once production gets underway, but “what they're trying to do is great,” he said.
Pepper garnered acclaim two years back with a Kickstarter campaign that brought in $1.9 million to launch FinalStraw, a collapsible, reusable straw he invented.
He turned his attention to the issue of sanitizers after talking with the owner of the assisted living facility in Sebastopol where his grandmother resides and learning that its supply of disinfectant would run out in days.
Owner Aida Reznik, who cares for 27 residents between homes in Sebastopol and Santa Rosa, said Friday her supplier had stopped delivering two weeks earlier. She had been going out early in the mornings to different retailers to search for cleaning products, wipes, hand sanitizers and other supplies with limited success. Despite daily trips, putting her health at risk by going into stores day after day, she found mostly empty shelves or limits on how much she could buy.
On Wednesday, she received a special delivery brokered by Pepper. The high-strength ethanol, from Tamar Distillery in Ukiah, can be used to make hand sanitizer and disinfectant spray.
The bottled alcohol - once intended for gin production - was part of a large amount owner Crispin Cain had in inventory. It might have gone into the manufacture of hand sanitizer, except Cain had difficulty sourcing the needed materials, like many other spirits makers.
But he needed special dispensation to sell beverage alcohol to the nursing home, just one of many challenges that have arisen as distilleries embark on their new venture. Regulation is the main one, coming from different agencies and addressing everything from labeling to exactly what substances are permitted in a mixture of hand sanitizer, for example.
But resourcing materials has been about as difficult for distillery owners as for common consumers during the current situation. Even plastic bottles are in short supply, Marshall said. He has spent days just trying to complete his registration with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration
“Everyone has been working in the right direction, but the red tape has been unbelievable,” he said.
In the meantime, the Disinfect Connect gang wants to make it easier for those like Reznik, who are desperate for help, to get what they need from people in an industry “who don't traditionally deal in that space at all,” said Rose, 25, a product manger for Google. “They don't necessarily have the connections with the people who need it the most.”
See disinfectconnect.com for more information.
You can reach Staff Writer Mary Callahan at email@example.com.
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