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Local distilleries supply community with homemade hand sanitizer

Bellewood Farms owner, Eric Abel, fills bottles with "Farm Hands" hand sanitizer. // Photo courtesy of Bellewood Farms

Chuckanut Bay Distillery and Bellewood Farms step in to fill hand sanitizer shortage

By Makenna Marks

In the midst of a pandemic, hand sanitizer and toilet paper seem to be everyone’s first-round picks for their COVID-19 defense team: Grocery stores throughout Bellingham have experienced a shortage of cleaning and sanitizing items. 

“It’s a manufacturing issue, but those items are also high in customer demand,” said Stephanie Meyers, the store manager at Fred Meyer’s Lakeway location in Bellingham. 

According to Meyers, the store is only able to receive a few small shipments of hand sanitizer at a time. 

“We sell out during the morning hours and are having trouble getting more,” Meyers said. 

Chuckanut Bay Distillery recognized the community’s need for hand sanitizer, and stopped production of its best-selling spirits to put their focus on making hand sanitizer, according to co-owner, Kelly Andrews.

“We became aware that distilleries had the proper licensing to do it, and we were in an optimal position to help out in that regard,” Andrews said. 

Andrews and co-owner Matt Howell, both Western alumni and Bellingham residents, have been donating hundreds of gallons of their hand sanitizer to organizations in need. 

“We’ve been donating a lot to clinics, hospitals, fire department and charities,” Andrews said.

Sustainable Connections, Shucksan Healthcare Center and Northwest Pathology are just a few of the organizations the distillery has donated sanitizer to. 

 The distillery’s tasting room is locked, and all alcohol sales have moved online, but it is still receiving support from customers.

Chuckanut Bay Distillery isn’t Whatcom County’s only new source of homemade hand sanitizer. 20 minutes from downtown Bellingham, Lynden’s Bellewood Farms boasts the largest apple orchard in Western Washington, along with a pumpkin patch, cafe and distillery — which recently became a factory for hand sanitizer. 

That was the start of “Farm Hands,” Bellewood Farms’ new, hand sanitizer. It begins with their apple cider. Once the cider is fermented, it’s distilled until it reaches at least 74% alcohol. From there, other ingredients, such as glycerin and essential oils, are added to make the sanitizer. 

Phyllis Harber-Murphy, executive assistant at Northwest pathology said she was thankful for both distilleries. She received two free cases of sanitizer from Chuckanut Bay Distillery and was also able to purchase sanitizer from Bellewood Farms. 

“Our laboratory couriers drive out to all of the clinics and they're picking up specimens and bringing them back to the lab for testing,” Harber-Murphy said. “All of our couriers needed hand sanitizer.”

“People have been super, super supportive,” Andrews said. “It’s nice to see that response from them, and also to see the sales that were taking place in person [happen] on the website.”

Eric Abel, the owner of Bellewood Farms, said that when businesses and stores started to shut down, he was visited by members of the Whatcom County Sheriff’s Office, which was in need of sanitizer. “We spent the next eight hours figuring out how to make hand sanitizer for them,” Abel said. Once Bellewood Farms made the sanitizer available and free to the public, things moved quickly. Abel said customers were able to bring their own 16 ounce container to fill with sanitizer, and the Farm went through over a thousand gallons in one weekend. 

“It was great and it worked out really good,” Abel said. “Then before you know it, we started getting calls from businesses and medical [facilities] all wanting our hand sanitizer, so we've been sending that out in bulk.”

Andrews said he is also finding a degree of cooperation and support between distilleries that he has never seen before. 

“We were out of glycerin and ended up borrowing some from Copperworks Distilling down in Seattle, and they were happy to supply it,” Andrews said. “It has been great to see that people have risen to the occasion.”

The distillery’s homemade hand sanitizer meets all of the World Health Organization’s requirements, Andrews said, and is available to purchase from their website. 

Abel, originally from Los Angeles, took over Bellewood Farms with his son and their families two years ago, even though they had little farming experience. 

Over the two years Abel and his family have spent on the farm, the strong community aspect has blown them away. 

“The community thing is just the silver lining and it’s beautiful,” Abel said. “Through the hardship, it’s like a little diamond coming through.”

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