Frustrated by shortages of disinfectants, face masks and disposable gloves, electric cooperatives have turned to creative new ways to secure the products or make their own.

In Winchester, Kentucky, the East Kentucky Power Cooperative has begun making hand sanitizer in its lab.

“We’ve had hand sanitizer on backorder since March,” said Mike Willoughby, the co-op’s manager of safety, security and facilities. “To get Purell or something like that is almost impossible.”

The co-op looked inside and found a solution.

Tim Yates, central laboratory supervisor in EKPC’s environmental affairs department, mixed a batch of sanitizer using facilities that are normally focused on issues like mercury emissions testing.

“It’s not that difficult to make,” Yates said. “It’s just three ingredients—isopropyl alcohol, aloe and lavender oil to make it smell nice.”

Six gallons from the first batch were quickly bottled and distributed. Co-op officials think it should meet the headquarters’ demand for about a month, Willoughby said.

EKPC also has access to sanitizer produced by Kentucky’s famed distilleries, now diverting a portion of their manufacturing capacity to help meet regional demand.

“The distillery sanitizer has a much thinner consistency and doesn’t work well with the pump bottles EKPC already has; but it works well in spray bottles, so we can use it to spray and disinfect surfaces,” Willoughby said. “Plus, Tim’s sanitizer has a much more pleasant scent.”

With 14 gallons of additional isopropyl alcohol and a supply of bottles on order, Yates hopes to make more before the current supply runs dry.

Meanwhile, electric co-ops serving members in the Pacific Northwest are getting help meeting their demand for masks, disposable latex gloves and other personal protective equipment from the co-op they normally call for poles, parts and power lines.

“GenPac has pivoted to find ways we can support our customers with the items they need to continue conducting business,” said Reed Pitney, marketing manager of General Pacific Inc.

The co-op-owned logistics and equipment distributor in Fairview, Oregon, serves co-ops and public utilities located in several northwestern states. Their buyers quickly got to work identifying sources and executing purchase orders to secure personal protective equipment not usually needed by co-ops.

To help co-ops maintain contact with members who’ve spent weeks at home sheltering in place during the COVID-19 stand down, GenPac developed customizable energy-efficiency kits that include LED lightbulbs, a couple of face masks and small bottles of hand sanitizer, packaged in boxes that can be printed with co-op logos.

“This gives the utility a chance to build a stronger relationship with their customers during this time,” Pitney said.