Community health center distributes hundreds of gallons of hand sanitizer to area organizations


Officials at the Northwest Community Health Center in Libby were expecting the delivery of 330 gallons of hand sanitizer.

They just weren’t expecting it to come in one container.

The massive infusion of hand sanitizer came courtesy of the multinational oil and gas corporation Exxon Mobil and the Federal Emergency Management Agency late last month. Kara Matthews of the Community Health Center said the energy giant donated the product and FEMA distributed the hand sanitizer.

With foreknowledge of the delivery, the staff at the community health center had already arranged to give the product away to area businesses, community organizations and public agencies. But the arrival date kept switching.

When it finally did arrive, on May 27, staff scrambled to figure out a way to get the massive vat off of the truck, Matthews recalled. A crew from Noble Excavating aided in moving the pallet, she said.

The next part involved the collection of one and five gallon jugs the staff at the health center gathered in the lead up to the delivery. As of last week, nearly all of the stuff had gone to area organizations and businesses, Matthews said. (Full disclosure: The Western News received a gallon).

“It’s gone out to close to 70 businesses and individuals, mostly businesses, between Libby, Troy and Eureka,” she said. “I have gotten rid of close to 300 of the 330 gallons.”

Hand sanitizer, like face masks and other personal protective gear, went on short supply during the initial onslaught of the COVID-19 pandemic. Although health experts advised that regular, old-fashioned soap was effective against the coronavirus, which causes COVID-19, hand sanitizer flew off store shelves as quickly as toilet paper.

Stories of price gouging and stockpiling supplies made national headlines. An article in The New York Times about a Tennessee man who cleared out stores in his area intending to resell hand sanitizer at higher prices went viral online. After accusations of price gouging and amid a criminal investigation, the subject of the article eventually donated his supply.

In the months since, breweries, distillers and other businesses recalibrated production lines to pump out hand sanitizer in an effort to meet demand.

In Libby, Matthews said 25 gallons immediately went to the local school district. The county health department also was a recipient of the hand sanitizer. Staff at the health center posted a photo of the original container to Facebook. Once the image went up, requests poured in, Matthews said.

“It went really well,” she said. “We had lots of people just call and come in once we posted that we had received it and were donating it to the community.”

But once the supply runs out — that’s it. Matthews does not expect another 330-gallon shipment anytime soon.

“It’s been a great opportunity for us to help out local businesses, for sure,” she said.

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