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Texas Distillery Switches Gears, Oklahoma Food Bank Donations Matched

BuzzBallz hand sanitizer Covid-19
Texas distillery BuzzBallz/Southern Champion has made 10,000 gallons of hand sanitizer for local medical professionals.

Businesses in the food industry continue to be on the front lines in the battle against Covid-19. In the Southwest, Texas distillery BuzzBallz is aiding the medical field by producing much-needed hand sanitizer, and anonymous donors have pledged to match donations to the Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma.


BuzzBallz creates hand sanitizer for local hospitals during Covid-19 pandemic

On March 20, BuzzBallz LLC/Southern Champion founder and CEO Merrilee Kick decided to adjust operations from solely cocktail production to add the creation of hand sanitizer, which would be donated to health care facilities, municipalities and retail personnel in Texas. This decision was reached after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued an emergency allowance for distillery owners to create hand sanitizer, which lifted customary limitations.

That day, Kick contacted Nate Mickish, the VP of sourcing and supply chain management at Texas Health Resources, to see if hand sanitizer was needed.

BuzzBallz Merrilee Kick
Merrilee Kick

“He said, ‘three out of their 14 hospitals were in dire need of hand sanitizer,’ so, I rallied our team…,” Kick said. “We also had a call from ProPath, which handles the pathology labs in North Texas.”    

On March 21, Sammy Nassiri, research and development specialist for BuzzBallz LLC/Southern Champion, began planning for the creation of the hand sanitizer using the resources on hand. Nassiri created the formula requirements and process with the help of BuzzBallz LLC/Southern Champion President Alex Kick and Chemist Bo Liu. 

“The World Health Organization (WHO) listed a formula that we were required to use,” Kick said. “So, our heads of procurement, marketing, sales and finance teams went out into the market to find things like 100 percent pure glycerin to add to the batch.”

The WHO guides governments around the world in providing premium health care for all citizens. This organization has been actively working with the United States government during the current pandemic to try to flatten the spike in Covid-19 cases.

According to Nassiri, hand sanitizers have historically been considered a drug, requiring a pharmacist on staff to regulate production. However, due to recent events, the TTB has lifted this and several other requirements to allow distillers to be of service during the mass hand sanitizer shortage.

That day, BuzzBallz staff members volunteered to manually bottle 100 gallons of hand sanitizer. Several pallets of hand sanitizer were delivered to the Texas Health Resources corporate office the same night. Mickish said it would be distributed to the hospitals in the Texas Health Resources network immediately. 

A representative from ProPath picked up bottles of hand sanitizer Monday, March 23. 

The team hopes to produce 10,000 gallons of hand sanitizer over the next week to donate to the North Texas medical community, area fire and police departments, Southern Glazers Wine & Spirits delivery personnel and grocery clerks restocking shelves. 

The estimated value of the 10,000-gallon batch of hand sanitizer is $150,000.

Based in Carrollton, Texas, BuzzBallz/Southern Champion is a woman-owned and family-operated distillery and winery founded in 2009 as the result of Kick’s master’s degree thesis project. In a little over 10 years, BuzzBallz/Southern Champion has greatly expanded its product base and begun to grow into a worldwide brand. The company is the only woman-owned combination winery/distillery in the U.S. The company has distribution in 45 states, several countries abroad and is growing.


Donors agree to match donations to Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma, up to $775,000

The Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma has announced that several anonymous donors have agreed to match donations, dollar for dollar, up to $775,000. Donations to the match can be made at rfbo.org/give or by calling 405-600-3136.

Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma Covid-19“Funding from both the private sector and government support is crucial to ensuring the Regional Food Bank meets the food assistance needs of our fellow Oklahomans,” said Deb Bunting, interim CEO. “We’ve had wonderful and generous donations, but we’ll need more.”

In response for food assistance during the Covid-19 pandemic, the Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma’s primary food distribution will be emergency food boxes at this time. As retail food donations have declined significantly due to high consumer demand, the RFBO must now purchase the products for the emergency food boxes.

The projected all-in costs to meet the current need is $2.7 million per month, which supports emergency food boxes for 60,000 households. If the need increases, as is expected, additional costs will be incurred.

Prior to the Covid-19 outbreak, the Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma distributed 4.2 million pounds of food a month. Of that, 2.4 million was donated from retailers and manufacturers, 1.4 million was USDA commodities and $420,000 was purchased food. With the high consumer demand in recent weeks, food donations have greatly reduced with no immediate recovery in sight. As a result, the Regional Food Bank is now forced to purchase the 2.4 million pounds of food that was previously donated.

“We are the first responders for Oklahomans in need of food assistance,” Bunting said. “We know that we live in a state full of kind, generous people who we hope will answer our call for additional donations and participate in this match opportunity.”

Food pantry directory

For anyone in need of food assistance, the Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma encourages them to click here. The web page offers a pantry finder option where visitors enter their zip code and it will list nearby pantries. Visitors are encouraged to first call the pantry to confirm hours of operation and any possible restrictions.

Persons in need of food assistance can also call the Regional Food Bank at 405-972-1111 during workday hours.

The Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma is leading the fight against hunger in 53 counties in central and western Oklahoma. Founded in 1980, the Regional Food Bank is the state’s largest hunger-relief 501(c)(3) nonprofit that distributes food through a network of community-based partner agencies and schools. The majority of people served by the Regional Food Bank are chronically hungry children, seniors living on fixed incomes and hardworking families struggling to make ends meet. The Regional Food Bank is a member of Feeding America, the nation’s network of food banks.

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