ANDERSON — Sitting at a long table inside the Oakley Brothers’ Distillery in downtown Anderson, owners Jason and Jerrad Oakley were constantly sending text messages or reading posts on their Facebook page whenever they weren’t answering questions.
Within minutes, Jason Oakley had 22 notifications. Most of the messages were questions about the free hand sanitizer being given away later that night.
The first items that became difficult to find in Madison County when the coronavirus (COVID-19) fears started to spread were toilet paper and hand sanitizer. While everyone is still scratching their heads over why toilet paper is such a hot commodity, businesses and health professionals struggled to fill orders for hand sanitizer.
The brothers came up with a solution. Make hand sanitizer at their business and offer it to the community in small quantities for free.
“My wife is a nurse practitioner with Community Anderson,” said Jason Oakley. “She was communicating that quantities are getting very low.”
Jason Oakley said when the United States Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB), which is the bureau of the United States Department of the Treasury that regulates and collects taxes on trade and imports of alcohol, tobacco and firearms within the U.S., gave distilleries authority to make hand sanitizer, the Oakley brothers knew they had to do it.
“They gave us a formula and said we can start to produce it,” Jason Oakley said.
That was last Thursday and Oakley Brothers’ Distillery has produced a little more than 200 gallons of the sanitizer and offered it to hospitals, nursing homes, hospice, assisted-living facilities, first responders and jails.
“We are the only distillery in a three-county area,” said Jerrad Oakley.
He said distilleries in Fort Wayne and the Indianapolis area are also creating the hand sanitizer, if their facilities allow for the transition.
Oakley Brothers’ Distillery, 34 W. Eighth St., is also letting the public bring in their own pint-size spray containers and fill them with hand sanitizer for personal use for free. The next opportunities are Thursday from 5 to 7 p.m. and Saturday from 1 to 3 p.m.
Producing the hand sanitizer is beginning to become costly for the brothers, but they hope people can make small donations and local farmers have offered to donate grain and some raw materials to help offset the costs.
Jerrad Oakley said there were some individuals who came to pick up the free hand sanitizer with 5-gallon buckets.
“Please limit yourself to a small shampoo bottle,” he said. “If anyone needs it, they can reach out on Facebook and let us know if someone is in desperate need of it. We will do our best to accommodate.”
A spray bottle of the solution will last a couple of weeks and people can return for more of the product, said Jason Oakley.
Unfortunately, it takes about a week to mix up the ingredients and Jerrad Oakley said they are trying to help those in the community who need it and help health care workers replenish their supplies.
“It’s like making whiskey,” Jerrad Oakley said. “You have to ferment it. You have to do the whole brewing process. We take 1,200 pounds of corn, water, enzymes and yeast and we literally let it ferment and then we run it through the still. Collect it all up and run it through again. We have to run it three times is what I’m seeing.”
Jason Oakley said a tremendous amount of water and electricity are needed to ferment the hand sanitizer to the levels needed to combat viruses like COVID-19.
“The problem is, we have never used this level of energy consumption before,” said Jerrad Oakley. “In order to get it up to the place where we are at, it’s a lot.
“Ultimately we need people to make donations,” he said. “We are to the point where our resources are almost gone and it’s serious. Be responsible, it’s available, and for those that need larger quantities, we are looking for donations.”
Jerrad Oakley said their motivation to provide the hand sanitizer is simple.
“If we can save one life, it’s worth it,” he said. “There are people reaching out and starting to help.
“If you can help, help. If you can’t – come get it anyway.”