To combat widespread supply shortages, a team of four Cal Poly students are joining forces with doctors, engineers, product managers and designers to put sanitizer in the hands of vulnerable community members across the West Coast.
They created Disinfect Connect, a database for locating and communicating with local distilleries who are producing alcohol-based disinfectants, according to its website.
“Our mission is getting disinfectant hand sanitizer to those who need it most and those who are not able to obtain it through the regular means,” Disinfect Connect public relations director and agricultural business junior Eric Agresti said.
Agresti, along with wine and viticulture junior Gabe Pepper, mechanical engineering junior Seth Ewing and English junior Chris King currently live together in San Luis Obispo, running operations from their shared living room.
Across the nation, distilleries are now legally permitted to produce hand sanitizer for the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Centers for Disease Control and Protection (CDC).
According to Agresti, however, there has been a disconnect between the organizations who produce hand sanitizer and those who need it most – recipients such as healthcare facilities and public service organizations.
That is where Disinfect Connect steps in.
“We are building a web platform that makes that link-up process easier,” Agresti said.
As the coronavirus first began to spread, Agresti said many distilleries were receiving a high number of sanitizer requests, but had difficulty sorting through and prioritizing them.
Agresti said Disinfect Connect verifies the authenticity of each request and prioritizes small health care organizations, first responders and nursing homes.
“Hospitals have the resources to help themselves out more often than not, so we have really found ourselves helping out those smaller-scale places,” Agresti said.
Since March, Agresti estimates the Disinfect Connect team has called more than 300 distilleries one-on-one, and called each in-need facility twice as many times.
“Sometimes all of that cold-calling can get frustrating over the phone, because you don’t have instant credibility,” King, Disinfect Connect’s social media manager, said. “But we really try to persevere and find those little bits of gratitude with people, and it’s really paying off.”
Disinfect Connect began with a single phone call from Pepper’s brother Miles on the first night of spring break, according to Pepper, who serves as the volunteer director. Miles had spoken to the owner of their grandmother’s nursing facility, who Pepper said was having a “really hard time” finding hand sanitizer.
“She was going to the grocery store every morning and couldn’t find it, which meant she was potentially bringing the virus back to the nursing facility,” Pepper said.
Twelve hours later, the team got to work.
Since then, Ewing, the outreach director, said the team has been working nonstop.
“If we’re not doing schoolwork, then it’s Disinfect Connect,” Ewing said. “It has definitely been a challenge, but we’ve managed so far.”
Agresti said one downside of the work is not being able to see the business’ benefit firsthand.
“We understand how important this work can be, but it’s kind of weird that we’re doing all of this from our living room and we don’t get to actually see any of those results for ourselves,” Agresti said.
According to King, managing a fast-paced start up business has given him a newfound sense of motivation.
“You can learn all you want from a textbook in a classroom, but these real-world skills with real-life consequences are what we’re learning from this,” King said.
Agresti said Disinfect Connect plans to focus aid on grocery stores next.
According to Agresti, the business has been successful in providing services in the San Francisco Bay area as well as Washington state. The second version of the website will launch further services in most of the country, from California to New York.
The team is currently aiming to recruit “dedicated volunteers” to cold-call distilleries, according to its website.