WAHOO – A steady stream of vehicles stopped by City Hall in Wahoo last Friday. They were met by members of the Chamber of Commerce, who handed them a gallon jug filled with hand sanitizer.
The hand sanitizer giveaway was arranged by Theresa Klein, executive director of economic development for Wahoo. Klein learned that the Nebraska Forest Service Fire Shop at the University of Nebraska Eastern Nebraska Research and Extension Center (ENREC) near Mead had partnered with the Nebraska Ethanol Board to make hand sanitizer.
Hand sanitizer is critical in helping stop the spread of the novel coronavirus, which causes COVID-19. Along with several other safety measures, the public is using hand sanitizer to prevent transmission of the virus.
Quickly after the world-wide pandemic reached the U.S., hand sanitizer became a hot commodity. At the same time, the demand for ethanol decreased as the majority of Americans were sheltering, working and schooling at home and not driving as much.
That’s when the ethanol industry stepped in to help, said Troy Bredenkamp, executive director of Renewable Fuels Nebraska.
“We’re clearly not using (ethanol) for fuel at this point,” he said.
The ethanol industry donated enough product to make 60,000 gallons of hand sanitizer, according to Bredenkamp.
The one and two-gallon jugs of hand sanitizer were distributed to health care facilities first. Then they focused on government entities, public utilities and law enforcement, said Bredenkamp. So far 50,000 gallons have been handed out.
Now they are focusing on areas where COVID-19 cases are growing.
“When the hot spots started popping up, the focus shifted on getting into those communities,” said Bredenkamp.
While Wahoo is not technically a “hot spot,” the city is located close to areas like Fremont, Omaha and Lincoln where the number of patients with the virus continues to grow.
The timing was perfect for Wahoo, as some of the Directed Health Measures relaxed on Monday in the Three Rivers Public Health Department area, which includes Saunders, Dodge and Washington counties. Businesses like hair salons and barber shops were allowed to open their doors as a result.
“We wanted particularly to get it into the hands of businesses that are still open or that are opening to make sure they had sanitizer to keep them safe and keep their customers safe,” Bredenkamp said.
Leanne Bullock, owner of Lasting Looks in Wahoo, walked over to City Hall to pick up a jug as she finished getting her salon ready to open. She said she’s spent the past several weeks since the mandated closure cleaning and sanitizing her business.
“It looks like brand new salon,” she said.
Lew Sieber with the Nebraska Forest Service has helped transport ethanol to make the hand sanitizer, and the sanitizer itself to communities. He said they recently took a load to central Nebraska, which has been hard hit by the pandemic. There, communities like Grand Island, Hastings, Kearney, Lexington and Wood River received the product.
With the demand so high for hand sanitizer, the prices have skyrocketed, making this free giveaway even that more important. Bredenkamp said the value of a gallon of the sanitizer ranges from $40 to $80.