Story by Sarah Naron
Since the novel coronavirus – more commonly referred to as COVID-19 – began making its way across the globe from China earlier this year, life has looked significantly different. Store shelves were wiped out of toilet paper and other household essentials such as paper towels and disinfectants, restaurants shuttered their dining rooms and began offering only delivery or curbside pickup options, and numerous businesses closed altogether, having been deemed “non-essential” and left with no choice but to send their employees to work from home or to be furloughed temporarily. Times were – and still are – difficult, but as the old adage reminds us, “When the going gets tough, the tough get going.” Throughout the Lone Star State, many businesses and organizations stepped up to offer assistance to their communities during the period of learning to navigate the uncharted obstacles brought on by COVID-19.
Among these entities is the Front Porch Distillery of Nacogdoches. When it became next to or completely impossible for East Texans to find hand sanitizer on grocery store runs, the distillery opted to shift its focus from producing alcoholic beverages to sanitizer.
“We were like, ‘Hey, we have almost everything we need to do this; we just have to pick up a few supplies and change our bottling line,’” said Taylor Alvarez, Front Porch Distillery’s marketing director.
In making the sanitizer, the distillery adhered to recommendations provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
“They recommended an alcohol content of at least 60 percent, which is 120-proof,” Alvarez explained. “I think ours ended up being 130-proof or 140. We started with our 190-proof vodka – that is not something we sell to the public; we just have it – and combined that with an aloe juice that’s all natural, distilled water, and xanthan gum to thicken it, and orange essential oil for scent.”
Alvarez estimated that the distillery was able to provide the sanitizer “over two or three weeks” and gifted more than 200 gallons to facilities such as hospitals, small businesses, and home health providers, as well as individuals.
“We gave each person around six to eight ounces and the businesses a lot more, so it went really faster than we expected,” Alvarez said. “But everybody was so thankful, and we were thankful to be able to give something back during a time that was so unknown and still is.”
Ultimately, the inability to procure additional supplies and limitations imposed by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) forced the distillery to halt its production of sanitizer.
“It was a lot of work,” Alvarez said of the experience. “But it was very rewarding, too. We were just glad we could help.”
For many working individuals, a major concern in recent weeks has been remaining able to put food on the table for their families after facing layoffs or furloughs from their jobs. For individuals residing in Cherokee County who have found themselves struggling to afford food, the HOPE (Helping Others Pursue Enrichment) Center of Jacksonville has served as a beacon through the darkness.
“We have not stopped any of our programs through this,” said Ramona Johnson, Client Services Director for the center. “We’ve just had to adjust and do it different through the pandemic.”
As is true for many restaurants, food pantries, and soup kitchens, the center has implemented a drive-thru service model to ensure that its staff and clients remain protected from exposure to COVID-19.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, Johnson said, the center has seen a large increase in the amount of county residents utilizing its services.
“In our kitchen, we’ve gone from having 70-80 people to feed to probably like 120-150,” Johnson said. “As far as our pantry, we’ve gone from serving 500-600 to about 1,000 on a good month. Our numbers have increased simply because people are just in need.”
Aside from providing food to those who need it, the HOPE Center also maintains an emergency dental program which has continued to be available.
“We partner with Dr. Folden, along with a couple other dentists in the area, to provide emergency dental services to clients who are in dire need,” Johnson said. “We send five clients a month to them.”
The center has also continued its emergency prescription program aimed at helping clients in obtaining the medications they need.
To ensure that it can accommodate the influx of new clients, the center has extended its hours of operation.
“In normal circumstances, we’re closed Friday-Sunday,” Johnson said. “We’ve started opening every other Saturday to serve working families – those who can’t make it to us during the week.”
Perhaps a lesser known casualty of the COVID-19 pandemic is the large amounts of family pets which have been cast out of their homes. It is an effect of the disaster that Lone Fried, who owns and operates the Furr Ever Pets Rescue in Longview, is all too familiar with.
“We’ve gotten several calls – more than usual,” Fried said. “Every day, I have to turn down 10-20 animals. Generally, it’s five to 10.”
Fried said that the organization – which deals only with smaller dog breeds – has received a higher than typical number of pets being surrendered from senior citizen owners.
“I’ve had some people who called me up because they’re putting Mom in the nursing home or assisted living with all this stuff going on,” she said. “It’s been real sad.”
In addition, Fried guessed that financial strain and concerns about coronavirus transmission between animals and humans are to blame for many of the other cases of abandoned animals.
“I think it’s a combination of finances and fear for the person’s health and having an animal and not being able to care for it,” she said. “This pandemic has probably put a lot more fear, especially, into senior citizens. I think some people, since they’ve been home, have taken in Mom and Dad and gotten rid of the pets because of that. They want the pets, but really need to take care of the parents.”
With many animal shelters largely closed and offering only emergency services during the pandemic, Fried said many pet owners have resorted to dumping the animals on country roads.
“It’s been a shame; it really has,” she said.
While Furr Ever Pets has been unable to accept every single dog that has been brought to its attention throughout the COVID-19 debacle, the organization has devoted itself to providing the best outcome for the dogs in its care. Each animal is fostered by a loving volunteer until a “furr-ever” home can be found.
For Elizabeth Sims, a teacher who began volunteering with the rescue following the closure of schools due to the pandemic, the experience of fostering dogs has been a rewarding one.
“You need to check it out,” she encouraged. “You just won’t believe how many animals there are – with or without a virus – that are unwanted.”