Christy Ownbey was at her desk Tuesday morning, when something important caught her eye.
“Hey, look, these guys are doing hand sanitizer!,” she said to her supervisor, Robert Hart.
“These guys” referred to Fish Hawk Spirits, the local distillery. Hart, Vice President of Marketing at SunState Federal Credit Union, and Ownbey, Lead Marketing Representative, know Fish Hawk well. They are one of the partners in the Alachua County Scramble Championship, the golf tournament organized and sponsored by SunState each year to benefit local npn-profit Noah’s Endeavor.
Hart reached out to the distillery, and shortly after, Fish Hawk agreed to donate 1,000 4 oz. bottles a week of hand sanitizer for use in Alachua County, although the actual amount may vary as Fish Hawk ramps up production of this new product for them.
Who best to use the hand sanitizer? “Let me call the Alachua County Sheriff’s Office (ACSO),” Hart said. “They’re going to be on the front lines.”
It turned out the Sheriff’s Office had begun searching for sources.
“We had a need," said Sgt. Frank Kinsey, Public Information Office for the ACSO. "We needed to fill that need. The community responded with an opportunity."
The sanitizer will first be used by the deputies as part of their Personal Protective Equipment, as they come into contact with the public first hand, including some who may have contracted COVID-19. The intent is for the ACSO to distribute additional amounts to the public as possible, at events such as food distributions.
For Matthew Bagdanovich, Master Distiller and Founder of Fish Hawk Spirits, donating the hand sanitizer is all just part of being a good neighbor in a time of need.
“If your neighbor’s house is on fire, aren’t you going to lend a hand?,” he asks. “First and foremost, this is our home.”
Bagdanovich explains that in the natural course of the distilling process, there is a byproduct of very intense alcohol that they don’t use. Alcohol is the actual sanitizing agent in hand sanitizer, he says; the rest are emollients to help soothe the skin. Typically, they would sell off this byproduct. Now, they have been given permission by government authorities to use it in the production of sanitizer.
In spite of his company’s generosity, Bagdanovich downplays its part.
“There are a lot of people trying to help,” he says. In fact, he finds the efforts of companies like his and so many others encouraging, as are the wider efforts of the community. “Take a breath. Relax a little bit. People are responding.”
Bagdanovich encourages people who are required to be at home to take advantage of the situation by doing things such as spending more time with their family.
If someone is at a site where the donated hand sanitizer is being distributed, “Be nice to your neighbor,” he says. “Be nice and gracious.”
One thing he says not to do: DO NOT go to the distillery in an effort to get sanitizer.
“Coming here will not bypass the distribution,” he says, and in fact it will only interfere with the production.
Sgt. Kinsey says deputies are working 12-hour shifts for the foreseeable future.
“Keep in mind our first responders,” Sgt. Kinsey says.
To help inhibit the spread of COVID-19 he pleads, “Keep your distance and save lives.”
For Hart, this is just part of a bigger effort to help the community get through the challenge posed by COVID-19, such as SunState’s partnership with MARC Radio and Mainstreet Daily News to get out as much useful, dependable information as possible.
“Information is the key to solving things,” Hart says.
As for Bagdanovich, he encourages people to wash their hands with soap and water whenever possible, and keep the sanitizer for times you can’t do that.
“THE number one thing,” he says: “Wash your hands!”