City Councilor Emily Semple bottles hand Sanitizer. Photo by Joe Cone.

It Takes a Village

Jefferson Westside neighbors pilot their own homemade hand sanitizer

Finding hand sanitizer at a grocery store these days is about as likely as spotting bigfoot — it’s probably not going to happen. But while shelves remain empty and COVID-19 spreads, the need for hand sanitizer continues to grow.

So members of Jefferson Westside Neighbors (JWN) decided to take matters into their own hands.

The neighborhood association — which includes City Councilor Emily Semple — produced 200 four-ounce bottles of hand sanitizer over the weekend of April 4 to hand out to residents in the neighborhood. The group also donated a portion to Cornerstone Community Housing, an affordable housing service provider. 

“Everyone should be washing their hands, but sometimes you can’t,” says JWN member Paul Conte. Hand sanitizer is a good alternative, but those who didn’t flock to the store in the initial coronavirus panic are out of luck.

After realizing how serious the sanitizer shortage is, Conte went to the JWN board and presented the idea. The board approved, deciding the pilot batch would go to neighborhood social service agencies. 

The recipe JWN is following is the World Health Organization’s guidelines for making a sanitizer that includes 80 percent isopropyl alcohol, 1.45 percent glycerin, 0.125 percent hydrogen peroxide and distilled water. Conte says that although things like alcohol are getting a little scarce, he was able to find the materials from various online and industrial suppliers.

After the sanitizer is produced, bottled and labeled, they will send it to Cornerstone Community Housing to be delivered to residents. Homes For Good, another affordable housing agency, will be partnering with JWN in getting supplies and creating future batches.

Jacob Fox, executive director of Homes for Good, says Jefferson Westside Neighbors has been a longtime supporter of affordable housing and helping members of the community, including those who are homeless.

“It is no surprise to me that Paul and other members of the Jefferson Westside Neighbors are stepping up on behalf of people in need during the COVID-19 pandemic,” Fox says.

Caitlin Vargas, community relations director for Cornerstone, says many people who live in affordable housing have jobs in grocery stores and restaurants. These individuals are still going to go to work every day, and some, Vargas says, have kids they return home to. 

“Some folks are still working because they are essential workers,” Vargas says. “It’s really important for them to have access to hand sanitizer.”

In addition to providing affordable housing, Cornerstone Community Housing also provides services by helping residents with budgeting, nutrition and fitness classes. In helping people navigate their lives, Vargas says, they want to ensure residents have access to important resources such as hand sanitizer.

She says the JWN hand sanitizer will be delivered to doorsteps with bags donated by Northwest Community Credit Union and filled with food donated from FOOD For Lane County.

“It’s a good example of ‘It takes a village,’” Vargas says. “We are getting food from FOOD for Lane County and sanitizer from the neighbors. It takes everyone to make one thing happen to have one bag dropped off. Everyone is working together and collaborating to make these things happen for others.”

Conte says he hopes the city and county pick up on this initiative and help local social service agencies. In an email to Eugene Weekly, Mayor Lucy Vinis says the city is supporting local distillers who are making sanitizer and purchased 100 gallons from Thinking Tree Spirits for first responders and have also received donations for the Eugene Police Department.

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