Sanitizer for Houston police officers no bottled-up problem; No, the main hang-up is getting bottles from across the world

The Houston Police Officers Union stepped up its all-sanitized-hands-on-deck effort to provide sanitizer for all officers, especially those on patrol. The key to the effort was working with at least distillers/chemical companies who are exchanging whiskey or vodka for disinfectant.

HPOU’s Tom Hayes at the entrance to Desert Door Sotol, newly designated corporate friend of the HPOU and provider of hundreds of gallons of not sotol but hand sanitizer. Hayes is pictured here with a Desert Door Distillery official.

“We are getting sanitizer by the gallon,” HPOU 3rd Vice President Tom Hayes said. “The problem is getting the bottles to put it in to distribute to officers.

Bottleless Pit

“No one in the United States has plastic bottles with caps. Everybody is looking for them at the same time. China has them and it takes 12 days to get them.”

The absence of bottles for the sanitizer delayed the further distribution of the disinfectant by the time the first week of distribution came to an end. “Officers are running out of it,” Hayes said. “We know that.”

That 12-day delivery countdown had started as Hayes reported the situation to the Badge & Gun.

As usual in a Union effort to help HPD officers, no stone was being left unturned. Hayes said gallon bottles would do the trick in a pinch like this. The problem: plenty of pumps but no one-gallon bottles.

The distribution of the first bottles of sanitizer began as Houston businesses closed down everywhere March 24 unless they are essential to human existence. This, of course, means no relief in sight for police officers, firefighters and other first responders.

Health maintenance in order to protect officers from Coronavirus became the highest priority. Fortunately, Hayes and the Union found four distillers or chemical companies who normally distill whiskey or mix other chemicals who were willing to convert their efforts to hand sanitizer.

And the four are:

  • Desert Door in Driftwood, Texas.

    Hayes prepares to load a few thousand bottles of hand sanitizer to transport from Driftwood to Houston for the benefit of Houston police officers.
  • Iron Wolf in Spicewood, Texas
  • EcoWerks chemical company in Port Arthur
  • COVID 19 Response Company

Hayes called the latter source “a company that came together working to provide critical supplies right now.” The Illinois-based operation provided sanitizer in bulk. HPOU purchased hundreds of gallons.

The partnership with EcoWerks was indeed unique, as explained by Hayes. HPOU members made the trip to Driftwood, a 300-mile roundtrip to the town west of Austin, to pick up the bottling machinery used to insert sanitizer into bottles and ready them for use. At B&G press time, EcoWerks had the machinery and the sanitizer but not the bottles.

Distribution Process

Bobby Kessler picking up the second delivery of hand sanitizer from Desert Door Distillery.

Hayes made the initial trip to Driftwood in his pickup on Monday, March 23 to gather the sanitizer to bring back to the HPOU in order to begin immediate distribution at the State Street location. Representatives from the outlying stations came and got their share. By week’s end the supply had run out, due entirely to the lack of bottles.

Hayes strongly discouraged the reuse of bottles because of likely contamination. So there was no obvious way to ease the problem.

Generally speaking these distillers/chemical companies were supplying the sanitizer at cost, not trying to make a huge profit but attempting to answer the call for a serious public service need during the virus pandemic.

This type of public spirit was remanence of the Houston Strong response to Hurricane Harvey in 2017.

A key man of the hour in Hurricane Harvey once again stepped forward in the pandemic. Gavin Torabi, Houston business entrepreneur and long-time friend of HPOU and HPD, made the initial contact with the distillers and bottlers.

“Gavin was the No. 1 guy as far as contacting all of these independent distillers, bottlers and shippers,” Hayes explained. “He got us on the phone with the companies and we put the deals together.”

This brings us to what HPOU was calling “the Blue Plate Initiative, a dynamic food service effort that Hayes admitted was hampered by the sanitizer bottle problem.

Torabi’s forte has proven to be working with restaurants in crisis times like Harvey to organize ways of providing police officers and other first responders with square meals during long stretches of overtime. Torabi’s efforts were recognized for their originality and effectiveness, feeding several hundred thousand first responders.

HPOU specially recognized Torabi in February for his tireless efforts during the HPOU reception after the memorial service for Sgt. Chris Brewster, bringing together restaurant operators who donated their food and services to the cause.

As for the latest food-related initiative, Hayes explained, “Gavin was getting together restaurants in various sections of the city to guarantee officers and first responders food service of high quality prepared and delivered at a reasonable price, all under the COVID 19 guidelines.”

High priority should be given to meeting sanitary conditions and “keeping the cost to a minimum.”

“Gavin’s first priority will be to pull out the Blue Plate Initiative to police officers and first responders,” Hayes said. “Once we’re happy with it, we’ll open it up to the general public.

“And we would hope to keep this going after the pandemic is over and make it part of the Houston food scene going forward.”

Torabi stressed the importance of ironing out the details so that first responders would be well fed, and the restaurants would be able to continue operating at a profitable level. He likened the blue plate concept to the similar public-spirited efforts during World War I and World War II.