In the past few weeks, Meredith Meyer Grelli of Wigle Whiskey has found herself besieged with thousands of requests for hand sanitizer, coming from all angles.
So Wigle Whiskey, the much-awarded Strip District-based distiller, is now making hand sanitizer, exclusively for Pittsburgh’s Department of Public Safety.
They’re one of several companies with local ties lending their skills and resources toward addressing some aspect of the COVID-19 crisis.
“We now have two full-time people as well as myself responding to requests,” says Grelli. “The need seems extraordinary — it’s sort of mind-boggling. The FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) reached out to us and asked. Frankly, it’s a little bit disheartening and scary how many people are feeling so desperate that they’re reaching out to a smaller distillery in Pittsburgh to get a hold of a basic thing like hand sanitizer.”
The idea began with distillers on the West Coast and industry trade groups sent information about protocols and requirements for producing sanitizer, says Grelli. “A lot of distilleries sprung right into action. We got emails from trade organizations a week and a half ago and started working on it immediately.”
They reached out to the mayor’s office, who put them in touch with the city’s Department of Public Safety.
“We started talking to them because we didn’t want to be in the position of distributing this ourselves,” says Alex Grelli, co-owner of Wigle Whiskey. “How do you choose between one EMS company versus a different township fire station. We didn’t want to be in that position. We make whiskey; we don’t distribute healthcare supplies.”
“We are packaging our own sanitizers in eight-ounce containers so they’re larger and designed to go into ambulances and fire trucks. The city will be distributing those to first responders throughout the city and Allegheny County — so it’s not just the city.”
A regulatory hurdle just appeared on Friday, making this effort extra difficult. The FDA said it was necessary to take the additional step of making it so bitter that no one would want to drink it,” says Meredith Grelli. While they fight to overturn that decision, they have ordered bittering agents.
Wigle is also still making whiskey and working through online orders, with pickup at their Strip District distillery and shipping throughout PA. They just won 20 awards, more than any other distillery in the US, at the virtual American Craft Spirits Association Awards Ceremony.
Pennsylvania Pure Distilleries, maker of Boyd & Blair Potato Vodka, is also making hand sanitizer, along with a coalition that includes the Pennsylvania Distillers guild, and other distillers across the state.
OurStreets to OurStreets Supplies
A few weeks ago, Mark Sussman was working on an app called OurStreets that enables users to crowd-source reporting dangerous driving behavior. Pittsburgh was one of its first focus cities.
Since the world has changed, Sussman’s company is shifting the focus of the app entirely to OurStreets Supplies, to crowd-source information about the availability of groceries and essential supplies at stores. The idea is to get a working, real-time inventory of essential products at retailers — fresh produce, soap, toilet paper — so people can limit the number of trips to the store and limit their potential exposure to COVID-19. This week, the app will go live in its new form.
“There’s a lot of hoarding going on,” says Sussman. “A lot of inventory is very low. It’s not that these items are not available, it’s that people don’t know where to go to get them.”
OurStreets Supplies wants to be that source. To do that, of course, they need users so they can be the Yelp of grocery store inventory.
Users will be asked to select what they’re shopping for, and snap a photo of what they find on the shelves. Then, they report whether it’s fully stocked, sold out, or something in between. They’ll also be asked to click on which store they’re in, and to note whether people are practicing safe social distancing.
Sussman says they’re also planning to work with retailers directly through a partnership with Data Society. “They’re going to be ingesting inventory data that’s available from all these retailers, and kind of matching that to the crowd-sourcing data that we’re getting from our users so that we can provide information both from retailers and from shoppers as to what’s available.”
He notes that each of these retailers uses different systems, so it’s going to be a Herculean task to make that work from the inventory side.