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GALENA– What started as a joke among friends has ended up far from a joke. Last week, Matt and Mike Blaum and their crew at Blaum Bros. Distilling Co. went above and beyond, producing gallons upon gallons of hand sanitizer which they’ve since given away to the community.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, the owners of the popular distillery are committed to doing their part to help.
It was around mid-March, just before the Galena School District’s scheduled spring break, when Matt Blaum was at Salon 603 in Galena for a haircut. There, he joked with the staff and customers about
how the distillery could, technically, produce hand sanitizer.
He remembers saying, “Yeah, wouldn’t that be funny?” In no way was he serious.
And then life changed, drastically.
The number of cases of the virus began to climb, the state government issued a stay-at-home order, school was cancelled for weeks. Hand sanitizer disappeared from store shelves.
Blaum said that although the distillery could technically produce hand sanitizer, the way the federal laws were written, it would have been difficult, but when the FDA loosened restrictions, the Blaums immediately moved forward, ordering supplies in an attempt to begin production as soon as possible, figuring out the details later.
Blaum Bros. is one of several distilleries across the U.S. joining this effort.
“We are very much in the mind set that this is war time,” said Blaum, noting neither he nor his brother would be able to sleep at night knowing they had it in their power to help and chose not to do so.
Ready to produce
It turned out, getting the supplies was a challenge.
The Blaums eventually ended up ordering gallon jugs, 32-ounce containers and 8-ounce containers. There were no pumps available to go on the bottles. They also had to secure the ingredients for the product itself: glycerin, ethanol and hydrogen peroxide.
There was one snafu that was corrected with a new shipment. The 8-ounce bottles arrived and a couple days later, when the caps arrived, they didn’t fit the bottles.
The distillery now has 5,500 bottles without fitting caps and 5,500 caps that don’t fit the bottles.
“We basically bought up what we could find,” said Blaum. “It’s just hard to find all that stuff.”
When production started, there was only a slight learning curve. At the end of the day, Blaum said, it’s really just mixing the ingredients together.
The crew bottled and labeled the gallon jugs and 32-ounce bottles first and then delivered most of those to Midwest Medical Center, Galena Stauss Senior Care Community, the Galena Ambulance and many local businesses.
The following day the crew moved on to the 5,000 8-ounce bottles that they eventually hope to fill and distribute.
On Saturday, 350 bottles were distributed to people at the distillery, and now Illinois Bank & Trust and First Community Bank have 250 each and Dupaco Community Credit Union 150 bottles to hand out from the drive-thru windows.
More bottles are in the works.
Blaum hopes that when all is said and done, the distillery will have produced 600 gallons of the sanitizer. As of last week, not even 100 gallons had rolled out of production, meaning there’s a long way to go.
The requests keep coming. Last week, over 400 organizational requests had come in and the number climbed over the weekend, some from states away. Blaum is hopeful the crew will be able to complete over 90 percent of the requests.
The plan all along was to produce the product and get it in people’s hands, Blaum said. They’ve been blown away by the generosity of the community. First Community Bank of Galena, Illinois Bank & Trust and Family Beer & Liquor all donated $1,000 toward the effort.
The city of Galena donated $250. And many, many individuals, grateful for the product, have offered varying amounts. Casey’s had pizza delivered one day last week to the hand sanitizer crew.
None of those donations were solicited, Blaum said, but they are certainly appreciated.
The Blaums are also grateful for the hard work of so many of their employees who have stepped up to help.
“The employees who are there are there because they want to help,” said Blaum.
The company’s full-time sales manager in Chicago is working on the hand sanitizer project, and at the distillery, five members of the production and bartending staff labeled bottles last week. Mindful of the risks associated with being around other people, the work was completely voluntary and was done following Centers for Disease Control and World Health Organization guidelines, including wearing masks and gloves.
“We’re doing it all the right way,” said Blaum. “We wanted to help and jump in and do this but we wanted to do it the right way.”
Delivering the product and seeing the reaction of recipients has been emotional.
“It’s been a very fulfilling practice so far,” said Blaum, noting they will continue to produce the product as long as there is a need and as long as they can continue to secure the necessary supplies to do so. “It feels good.”