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Whitney Grove knew he’d need help from his friends to keep his community safe during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Grove, who co-owns The Pharmacy at Pleasant Hope and another pharmacy in Ash Grove, said over the last two months, he’s been inundated with calls from customers requesting hand sanitizer, which many stores were out of.
Unfortunately, he said, he didn’t have any either.
“Once the general public became aware that sanitizer was in short supply, the calls turned into them asking for alcohol and hydrogen peroxide to make their own,” he recalled. “At that point, we wanted to be a resource for the community.”
But, what Grove did have was a pair of close friends — Spencer Detherage, who owns Bub’s Distillery in Rogersville, and Jerry Brown, who owns RevHoney in Bolivar.
Grove said he got them together and explained the situation.
“This pharmacy had elderly patients coming, including some that were immunocompromised, and asking us with legitimate fears,” he said. “They wanted something to sanitize and protect themselves.”
They formed a plan, he said. Detherage would manufacture hand sanitizer at his distillery and ship it to Brown, who could bottle the product using some of the same machinery he uses to bottle RevHoney’s honey-based beverages.
It would then be shipped to the two pharmacies, where Grove said it could help keep those communities safe.
“We also work with a couple of different health systems, and we’ve also sold some at wholesale to a variety of other pharmacies,” Grove said. “It’s in a lot of hair salons and schools, too.”
On Thursday, May 14, after Brown said the group was recently able to produce an initial 10,000 bottles, the pharmacy donated 36 bottles, four 1-gallon jugs and 36 masks to the Polk County Sheriff’s Office.
A second donation went to the Greene County Sheriff’s Office, according to a social media post from the sheriff’s office.
The donation was much appreciated, Polk County Sheriff Danny Morrison said. Hand sanitizer is used in the sheriff’s office lobby, the Polk County Jail and by deputies on patrol, he said.
“We’ve been trying to get some, but it’s been on backorder forever,” he said.
Detherage said all involved have experienced pandemic-related setbacks. His distillery was shut down due to the pandemic just months after it had opened in a new location.
“It was hard,” he said. “Like everybody else, we were just trying to make ends meet.”
Manufacturing hand sanitizer in the distillery meant a chance to help the effort to fight the pandemic but also to keep his business afloat, Detherage said.
“People needed the sanitizer,” he said. “We needed to stay open. It helped everybody.”
The arrangement was made possible because the federal government relaxed certain standards around where and how hand sanitizer can be made in response to the shortage, Detherage said.
The change required minimal retooling at the distillery, he said.
“The U.S. Food and Drug administration released a formula and a policy,” he said. “That’s what we abided by, so we started making hand sanitizer.”
Grove said it’s important to note that, just because the sanitizer is made in a distillery, it’s still been denatured, meaning it’s not safe to consume.
From the distillery, the product is transported by truck to RevHoney in Bolivar in 300-gallon vats. Brown said he also had to make some changes in his production line to bottle the hand sanitizer.
“My piston filler for honey wasn't capable of doing the alcohol,” Brown said. “I got a new one, but now that I’ve got it, I can use it for honey, as well.”
Brown said the work has kept his factory busy. Between sanitizer and his honey-based products, he’s worked several 15-hour days in the last three weeks.
It’s worthwhile, though, he said.
His business connections have also helped source additional bottles for the sanitizer, despite what Brown said is a current bottle shortage.
“We’ve shipped far and wide,” he said. “This hand sanitizer has gone as far as Florida, Texas and all around Missouri.”
When settling on pricing the product, Grove said the trio wasn’t interested in maximizing profits.
“The first thing we did was say, 'What is the market price?’” he said. “‘Can we produce a larger size than what other people are selling at a lower price, so that no one can ever say we did anything inappropriately?’ At the same time, we knew we had to balance that with a financial incentive for us that it makes it viable and worth our time and also worth the risk.”
Grove said the group’s main priority is keeping people safe.
Morrison said the sheriff’s office has a similar goal. The donation is a boost, he said.
“We’re doing our best to protect ourselves and the public,” he said. “This helps us do that.”