Pandemic Plan: HPOU goes thousands of miles to process hand sanitizer but doesn’t have to go far to get free meals from local restaurants

Tom Kennedy, Editor
Can you tell who these guys are in the masks? That’s HPOU President Joe Gamaldi on the right and 3rd Vice President Tom Hayes in the center in the light shirt. They led these masked officers on a daily basis, passing out masks, gloves and, especially, hand sanitizer and hot lunches to HPD officers as well as law enforcement personnel from other Houston area agencies.

The Houston Police Officers Union is leaving no road untraveled and no ethanol supplier untapped in its detailed ongoing effort to supply HPD officers with masks, hand sanitizers and hot meals from some of the city’s most dedicated restauranteurs and sandwich makers.

Thanks to radio personality Michael Berry, the Union was instrumental in the distribution of approximately 200 hot meals a day provided by restaurants whose business has struggled in the closed-door, stay-at-home orders that have been in effect in Houston.

According to the Berry plan, a donor antes up $2,500 for the restaurant, which in turn provides free meals to the officers, who wait in line to pick them up at the Union on State Street.

The Union’s Ray Hunt, the man in charge of coordination, had high praise for the donors and restaurants and sandwich shops who continue unselfish, generous participation.

“We’ve known since the Hurricane Harvey aftermath that Houston police have many, many generous supporters in the community,” Hunt said. “The long list of participants keeps on growing. We have enough daily meals to last a long time, probably throughout May.”

All ‘Bottled-up’

Officer James Mushinski with staff from Gringo’s. Thank you, Gringo’s!

And talk about going the full nine miles for officers in other ways. The Union accessed ethanol, the primary ingredient in sanitizer, from a company in a small Iowa town and arranged prompt shipment to Driftwood, Texas, where Desert Door distillery processed the sanitizer in five-gallon containers.

Responding to the needs of high-risk first responders like Houston police officers required unprecedented enterprise. The Union had the hand sanitizer processed but had to search the nation (the world?) for the small bottles to be handed out to individual officer, particularly those on patrol combating the increase in crime rates.

Oh, but bottles were also needed and the demand for hand sanitizer bottles in the United States has dramatically increased in the ongoing fight against the Coronavirus pandemic.

“We ran out of bottles,” HPOU 3rd Vice President Tom Hayes said in an admitted understatement. “We had purchased 325 gallons of ethanol from Quad County Corn Coop in Iowa and had it shipped to Driftwood.

“We had a hard time finding bottles. We found Berlin Packaging in Chicago, Illinois and were able to purchase 10,000 eight-ounce bottles with lids.”

That express shipment was dispatched to HPOU headquarters. Hayes and the Union were able to grease the skids of the distribution operation by – get this – the purchase of ketchup and mustard dispensers like those used in a typical hamburger joint. They were attached to the five-gallon containers of hand sanitizer and supplied to all outlying stations.

Now Hayes can accurately state, “We have ramped up the production line.”

HPOU 3rd Vice President Tom Hayes and HPOU 1st Vice President Doug Griffith thank Starbucks for the beans and brew and fuel for the cause.

HPOU has maintained regular 8-to-5 operational hours through weekdays and stays open 9:30 a.m. until 2:30 p.m. on Saturdays. All officers still have 24-hour access to HPOU’s legal staff.

Hayes said evening shift and Saturday meals have been donated by John Nau and Bill Floyd, many of them prepared by Porta’vino head chef Greg Gordon, who was supported by Monarch Hospitality, Potente restaurant and Jackson Street BBQ.

He also recognized Rebecca Creek Distillery in San Antonio, who donated 50 five-gallon containers of hand sanitizer “which filled the gap before we had Sotol Distillery in Driftwood in full production.”

The Union hands out masks and gloves that have been purchased or donated on an as-needed basis.

Sharing and Caring

Volunteers were not in short supply. Assist the Officer’s Mike Mitchell and officers/barbecue chefs Bobby Kessler and James Mushinski took turns making the 300-mile round trip to and from Sotol Distillery in Driftwood, west of Austin. At press time they were due to make the last run to pick up 4,000 pounds of hand sanitizer in a 20-foot trailer.

Hayes believes the likely surplus will be stored and used in case of a relapse of the virus in the fall.

“We’ve been supplying not only our personnel but the Metro police, the Harris County Sheriff’s Department, including their jailers, the Missouri City police, the Houston ISD police Houston Community College police and the University of Houston police,” Hayes reported. “We also helped each of the constables at one time or another. And a couple of firefighters have managed to come by.”

He said HPOU was glad to help the sheriffs until the county developed its own plan and pointed out that the Metro FOP Lodge 98 made a cash donation “to help us offset some of our costs. Robert Smith, their president, was happy to do that.”

This is but one of many food vendors serving HPD officers through the HPOU distribution process. Thank you, Taco Cabana!

Hunt provided details of the $2,500 donors to restaurants and sandwich shops and, as expected, the participating businesses who have been bringing hot meals to the HPOU for distribution.

Chronologically, they are:

  • April 16 – El Tiempo Restaurant, sponsored by Relevant Rentals.
  • April 17 – Charles Clark of Brasserie 19, sponsored by Ability Tree Experts
  • April 20 – Brennan’s of Houston, sponsored Officer Storage Solutions
  • April 21 – Gringo’s and Jimmy Changas, sponsored by the owner, Russell Ybarra.
  • April 22 – Big Paulie’s Pizza, sponsored by Paul McCurdy and his partner at Big Paulie’s
  • April 23 – Box lunches by Newk’s Eatery in Nacogdoches, sponsored by MNI Diesel.
  • April 24 – Crawfish box lunches by Matt Rhymer, sponsored by Robert and Rose McKee of Tomball. The McKees said they put $100 with their individual $1,200 stimulus checks to pay for these meals.
  • April 27 – Barbecue lunches by Charlie’s BBQ and Hamburgers, sponsored by Bumbera’s Performance Associates.
  • April 28 – Chicken and beef taco boxes by Tio’s, sponsored by Sterling Kirk of Sterling First Aid and Safety Supplies in Pearland
  • April 29 – Box lunches from Frank’s Americana, sponsored by Lance Hoffman of Tri-Tech Engineering and Surveying.
  • April 30 – Lupe Tortilla, sponsored by Lupe Tortilla.
  • May 1 – Subway (380 meals), sponsored by Wild Birds Unlimited. This supply will also serve cadets and personnel at the Academy. Hunt made it a point to remind everyone that Subway was an extremely generous donor of thousands of sandwiches to Houston officers in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey. “Subway always comes through for us with its extreme generosity and appreciation toward Houston police officers.”