Doing their part: Kuleana Rum Works producing hand sanitizer to fight COVID-19 pandemic

  • Steve Jefferson checks on mature sugar cane in October 2019 at the Kuleana Rum Farm in North Kohala. (Laura Ruminski/West Hawaii Today)

  • Kuleana Rum Works is now making hand sanitizer for Hawaii County Civil Defense to distribute to health care workers and first responders helping to fight the coronavirus outbreak. (Jeanne Lewis/Special to West Hawaii Today)

  • Kuleana Rum Works is now making hand sanitizer for Hawaii County Civil Defense to distribute to health care workers and first responders helping to fight the coronavirus outbreak. (Jeanne Lewis/Special to West Hawaii Today)

  • Kuleana Rum Works is now making hand sanitizer for Hawaii County Civil Defense to distribute to health care workers and first responders helping to fight the coronavirus outbreak. (Jeanne Lewis/Special to West Hawaii Today)

The COVID-19 pandemic has created a high demand for now-coveted disinfectant products. To help fill that demand on Hawaii Island, Kuleana Rum Works has shifted its focus from making rum to making hand sanitizer.

The Kohala distillery has been hard at work this month using their alcohol supply to create hand sanitizer for the many first responders and health care workers on the island who have been on the front lines of the fight against the coronavirus.

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The sanitizer the distillery has produced is being distributed by Hawaii County Civil Defense to health care workers and first responders in every area of the island.

“We’re in a unique position to be able to produce this. With supply chain interruptions, we knew we had the primary ingredient, which is alcohol, on island in a form that we could make hand sanitizer with,” Kuleana Rum Works CEO Steve Jefferson said. “We wanted to help, so all we had to do was figure out what the best way to get started was. What we decided was to contact the county, Civil Defense, and offer it to them so that they could make sure they could make it available for all the frontline health care workers, the fire department, the ambulance drivers, and all the other workers of essential services the county is offering.”

Kuleana Rum Works joins a long list of distilleries using their resources to help fight the pandemic. The Distilled Spirits Council of the United States’ website lists hundreds of distilleries around the country that are putting their alcohol to good use.

“We’ve probably made roughly between 50 and 100 gallons,” Jefferson said. “That’s just getting started, even though it might sound like a lot.”

Jefferson said the requirements and protocols for storing large amounts of alcohol make distilleries the perfect candidates for producing sanitizer.

“Our primary business is still to make rum, and we’re trying to figure out what the demand for hand sanitizer is and then make that a priority and try to make it available to help in this critical time now that people need it who can’t get it,” Jefferson said. “We imagine hand sanitizer businesses are going to get back on track, but until then, we want to make sure that it is still available.”

The distillery hopes that’s just the first phase of the project.

“There’s great demand beyond the county and there’s health care offices the county doesn’t necessarily service so we’re making plans to try to get the hand sanitizer to those people and places,” Jefferson said. “Second tier would be all private first responders, doctors offices, things like that, and then third tier would eventually be the general public. The mayor has a mandate now requiring all businesses to make hand sanitizers or hand washing stations available to their customers so we’ll try to make as much as we can to help with that burden as much as possible.”

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Devoting the time, energy and money to make the hand sanitizer was a no-brainer for Jefferson, who said Kuleana Rum Works just wants to help the community.

“We’re just one company that’s trying to offer what we can,” Jefferson said. “We’re part of this community, and if the community isn’t strong, neither are we. That’s our primary focus — to make sure the Big Island remains a strong community and healthy.”

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