By Kalvin Valdillez, Tulalip News
As many will recall, when the elusive coronavirus first struck the U.S., panic ran rampant throughout the nation. Perhaps in anticipation of self-quarantine or lockdown, people rushed to the supermarket to stock up on their essentials needs. Although this particular moment will go down in history as the great toilet paper shortage of 2020, TP wasn’t the only shelf left empty by panicked consumers. In fact, most home cleaning supplies were also completely sold out including disinfectant wipes and spray, paper towels, multi-purpose sprays and hand sanitizer.
“There were a lot of call outs on Facebook from people in the community, especially elders, saying they had no sanitizer, no masks or gloves,” explains Tulalip tribal member Sarah Hart. “I immediately went to the store thinking, I’ll just go pick up a bunch of hand sanitizers, I don’t mind paying for it. And then I got there, there was literally nothing. That’s when I knew I had to make something happen.”
Solely out of concern for her fellow Tulalip community members, Sarah began to brainstorm ways to keep her loved ones as safe as possible during the pandemic, ultimately deciding to dedicate her stay-at-home hours to producing hand sanitizer.
“For two days straight I YouTubed videos on how to make your own sanitizer and went on the CDC website to make sure it was strong enough. I felt the need to do something for the community because a lot of people didn’t have any hand sanitizer. I figured I could make a few bottles for when people go out to the store and they touch something like the carts, at least they could have one of my bottles on-hand and it could potentially save their life.”
While organizations such as the CDC (Centers of Disease Control), FDA (Food and Drug Administration, and WHO (World Health Organization) maintain that washing your hands with warm soapy water for at least twenty seconds is key in limiting the spread of COVID, they also state that an alcohol-based hand sanitizer will be effective in a pinch or on-the-go until you are able to properly cleanse your palms and digits.
Sarah wasn’t the only person manufacturing hand sanitizer out of the comfort of her own home, in fact several DIY hand sanitizer step-by-step guides were released during the early months of COVID. Around the world people were making sanitizer with the intention of personal use or financial gain. Unfortunately for many, due to cutting corners for profit or not using the proper ingredients, their homemade hand sanitizers were either rendered ineffective or caused unpleasant side effects such as burns and rashes.
This was something Sarah intentionally avoided from the start, claiming that cheaper products would not come at the expense of her people’s health. So when the CDC recommended an alcohol base of at least 60%, Sarah went out and purchased 190-proof Everclear, 30% stronger than the CDC recommendation, essentially telling COVID that she is not messing around.
“It took me a good two weeks to get the consistency that I felt was safe enough. When I make a batch of one-hundred bottles I use Everclear, aloe vera, hydrogen peroxide, witch hazel for the skin so it doesn’t dry out and tea tree oil. If you go on Etsy or anywhere online 90% of the people that make it cut it with distilled water or rose water, something to make it cheaper.”
Once she had her recipe down, she recruited her youngins to lend a hand and assist with creating the concoction as well as bottling and distributing the product. Eventually over time, their passion for the family hand sanitizer project grew perhaps even larger than Sarah’s.
“My kids have been amazing,” she expressed. “It makes me happy that my little ones are into helping. For the first two months we were making it every day and every morning they would wake up and were like, ‘let’s make hand sanitizer!’ They’ve helped tremendously.
“It has turned into something bigger than I thought it would be. For two months, I delivered hundreds and hundreds of bottles. And now, a few days out of the week I’ll make a batch of a hundred bottles and put them at the end of my driveway on a table and tell people to be safe and come and grab how many ever they need. And when I put them out, I spray them down all down, just in case because what if I’ve been in contact and unknowningly pass it to an elder or someone in the community.”
In addition to delivering the hand sanitizer, on two separate occasions Sarah and her kids assembled care packages for the elders of Tulalip by pairing two masks, two pairs of gloves and two hand sanitizers in Ziploc bags, on which they included a personal drawing or message for the recipients. Those care packages in turn inspired Sarah to help out a fellow Indigenous nation who have been hit hard by the pandemic, sending 200 care packages filled with masks and sanitizer to the Navajo Nation. You can also spot the employees of the Marysville Safeway, Albertsons, and local coffee stands utilizing Sarah’s sanitizer as she drops off dozens of bottles to local businesses during her weekly delivery rounds.
High quality product requires a big budget and typically generates enough revenue for additional production costs as well as labor. Sarah’s main objective, however, is ensuring her people have the necessary supplies to protect themselves against corona and she has no intention of charging for her sanitizer. After emptying her entire savings account, she began to look at different possibilities and ways to obtain funds in order to continue her project.
After organizing a 50/50 raffle and receiving friendly donations here and there, she was able to purchase more supplies. But with COVID not going anywhere anytime soon, she found the demand to be surprisingly higher than she originally expected. For this reason, she took the advice of fellow Tribal member, Natosha Gobin.
“She’s doing amazing work,” says Natosha. “Making hand sanitizer can be really pricey, so I set up an Amazon wish list for her and have been encouraging the community to go on there and purchase and send her materials. To see somebody take the initiative and say, I’m going to learn how to make this, I’m going to put my money into it and I’m not going to burden people with the cost, that shows a lot of heart. She didn’t want anything in return. The recognition wasn’t even something she was searching for, it’s just that desire to serve our community. It’s just in our DNA to take care of each other. It’s a perfect example of what our community is.”
“My main focus with everything is our people,” Sarah states. “Especially at the beginning of the pandemic, making sure they had something because there was so much going on. The smiles on their face makes it all worth it for me. I’ve definitely had my emotional moments; I love my people and community. This is more than sanitizer, this could help save a life and it’s made with so much love in it. I also started making alcohol wipes to hand out, for people to use and keep in their cars. With the numbers growing I feel it’s only necessary to do anything I can to help protect our people.”
To make a donation to Sarah’s hand sanitizer project, please contact her directly via Facebook or visit her Amazon wish list to help purchase supplies at https://www.amazon.com/hz/wishlist/ls/1GIIUU6SBIAV5?type=wishlist