By mid-March, hand sanitizer was flying off the shelves of stores everywhere. Prices increased by almost 70% due to high demand, and consumers still could not get their hands on a bottle of hand sanitizer. It was one more instance of everyday life being upended by the Covid-19 pandemic.

It did not take long for the folks at Koval Distillery to bring all liquor production to a screeching halt and begin using their high-proof alcohol to produce hand sanitizer to donate across Chicagoland, in an effort to help contain the spread of the novel coronavirus.

On March 18, the Tax and Trade Bureau granted an exemption that allowed Koval to make the much needed product. “We turned it around in four days. By March 23, we had produced our first batch of hand sanitizer and we donated it that day,” said regional sales manager and 1994 Evanston Township High School alumnus Otto Ade.

The Chicago-based spirits company sent their first donation of 1,000 gallons to every major hospital in Chicago and area nursing homes – those most affected on the front lines. “This was right at the time the pandemic was hitting Chicago really hard,” said Mr. Ade.

The company also donated to all the Chicago police precincts and fire departments, food pantries and nonprofits.

“We wanted to extend our offer to some of the surrounding suburbs, and that’s how Evanston came into play. Our founder, Sonat Birnecker-Hart, is from Evanston. She’s also an ETHS graduate, 1991. We hold Evanston dear to our hearts, so Sonat and I reached out with an email to the Mayor’s office and Mayor Hagerty responded,” said Mr. Ade.

Each of Evanston’s nine wards received 20 gallons of hand sanitizer last Tuesday to use as they see fit. Mr. Ade said Fifth Ward Alderman Robin Rue Simmons is designating part of her 20 gallons for an event scheduled for Saturday, July 18 at Dawes Park (lakefront), 1700 Sheridan Rd., from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.

The event is open to everyone, and will feature free high-quality Black children’s books from the Black Children’s Library Summer Pop-Up Series, yoga expert Ms. Nubia of Yoga and Mindfulness, and an African Drumming & Ancestral Healing Rally, all in partnership with Ald. Simmons and the City of Evanston.

“Shout out to Otto Ade for keeping all attendees safe with a generous donation of hand sanitizer from KOVAL Distillery,” wrote Ald. Simmons in a recent Facebook post.

Koval Distillery, founded by Dr. Birnecker-Hart and her husband, Dr. Robert Birnecker in 2008, is a Chicago based spirits company, and the largest independently owned and women owned craft distillery (certified Organic and Kosher) in the U.S., while exporting to 55 markets globally.

“We have the ability to make this and we felt it was the right thing to do. It was almost our duty. Since mid-March, we’ve donated roughly 4,000 gallons across Chicagoland,” said Mr. Ade. The basic white label on the containers of hand sanitizer includes a familiar and comforting quote from Fred Rogers: “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.” It promises to be a wonderful day in the neighborhood on Saturday at Dawes Park.

Heidi Randhava is an award winning reporter who has a deep commitment to community engagement and service. She has written for the Evanston RoundTable since 2016.