KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The whiskey stills are still working at J. Rieger & Co., but right now, the Kansas City distillery is bottling hand sanitizer instead.
"In 48 hours, we switched over our entire business," Lucy Rieger said. The distillery is making sanitizer in two-liter bottles by the pallet these days, working to keep up with the requests pouring in. "I've been getting about 500 a day."
Rieger said it started on a much smaller scale with a request from a nursing facility and a small offering to the public, but the demand was huge.
"It felt for a while there like I was playing God," Rieger said. "People calling, saying, 'I have nowhere else to turn; can you help us?'"
Rieger said she gets emails from nurses who might want sanitizer for their homes and family. She also receives a lot of requests from first responders.
One of the requests that hit her the hardest came from a lab doing COVID-19 testing.
"It is becoming more and more difficult to purchase," she said, reading the request. "Our lab will be receiving 10,000 COVID-19 samples tonight to be tested."
She also received a request from a nursing home that cares for nuns.
"Would there be a possibility you could donate some of your large bottles to the nuns?" she said the request read. "How do you say no to that?"
The distillery didn't. Rieger said the company has donated all it can, more than 4,000 bottles so far. Most of those, Rieger added, were two-liter bottles. J. Rieger & Co. has now made more than 10,500 gallons of sanitizer in 10 days.
While the distillery would love to donate everything, Rieger said it's a balance between the cost to buy the supplies and also trying to pay staff, whom they consider family, when a majority of the distillery's revenue has disappeared. A lot of business, she said, came from people ordering their drinks in restaurants and bars, which are now closed.
Customers who can have been paying it forward, allowing J. Rieger & Co. to give more and keep filling huge orders.
"We had some massive orders for some health care systems in the metro," she said.
The University of Kansas Health System, North Kansas City Hospital and Saint Luke's Health System confirmed they have been using products from J. Rieger & Co.
North Kanas City Hospital said it's buying about 100 liters of alcohol a week that its pharmacists are using to turn into hand sanitizer.
"The formula we developed exceeds the alcohol-level requirements while not drying out users' hands," said Rob Schlicht, vice president of professional services, in an emailed statement to 41 Action News.
Saint Luke's Health System confirmed it is buying 2,000 four-ounce bottles a week from the distillery right now.
The University of Kansas Health System said during its daily briefing Monday that while the hospital has enough supplies for now, employees are watching the supplies every day.
Rieger is just grateful the distillery can help the community and beyond during such a surreal, tough time.
"We have the resources and the capabilities to make a huge impact," she said.
If you are a medical professional, first responder or a "critical infrastructure business" and want to buy hand sanitizer from J. Rieger and Co., click here.
Anyone else who would like to buy J. Rieger & Co. hand sanitizer can do that here through a partnership with Blade & Timber to order and pick-up the product.