A Small Distillery’s Plea to Improve Procurement Efforts

My name is Jenny Griffo, and my husband Mike and I own and operate Griffo Distillery in Petaluma, Calif., right in the heart of Wine Country. Normally we make delicious, award-winning craft spirits. But as everyone knows, life isn’t normal anymore. So over a month ago we transformed our small operation to produce sanitizer full time, around the clock, for people and institutions in need.

All day long, our staff tries to figure out how to produce, package and ship enough sanitizer to fulfill the needs of the huge range of people calling us from hospitals, hospice centers, cancer treatment centers, fire stations, police stations, prisons, at-risk youth centers, homeless organizations, and tribal nations across the country.

We also offer a drive-up service where people can bring a container, and if they're a first responder, frontline worker, or otherwise at risk, we'll fill it with sanitizer for free, no questions asked.

We are thankful that our donations ­– totaling nearly 2,000 gallons of sanitizer – are counterbalanced by good sales to for-profit businesses happy to pay for it.

The thing about offering these services is we get to see and talk to the people who need sanitizer the most.

Every day has its own story of that person whose desperation for a product that should be easy to come by breaks our hearts – the homeless shelter with zero sanitizer and panicked staff, the tribal nation with massive mortality rates calling us for help because they literally can’t find any, and nurses looking to surprise and treat their colleagues by gifting them sanitizer. These peoples’ stories are often accompanied by fear for an elderly parent living with them, their immune- compromised child or partner, and on and on. It is an uncommon day when one of our staff members does not cry after hearing such a story.

We’ve had nurses in L.A. call us at 10 p.m. on a Friday and ask if someone could meet them at the distillery in the morning if they drove all night, so they could get back to their shift the next afternoon to help patients with Covid-19. We figured out how to get them sanitizer the next day without them driving across the state.

But today, today got us, and none of us have been able to shake it.

Elizabeth, a distillery staff member, went out to a car that had just pulled up and saw a woman sitting by herself in the front seat, sobbing. The top half of her face mask was soaked – drenched in tears. Elizabeth tried to understand what was wrong and how she could help, but the woman’s sobs made it difficult to understand. She held up two badges showing she works with two different centers for at-risk people. Through her sobs, the woman explained that there was a tiered system at one of her jobs – staff more highly ranked were getting priority access to sanitizer, and since she was ranked lower, she did not get any.

Thankfully, Elizabeth knew just what to do. She ran inside and grabbed a handful of dispensing bottles and a gallon jug to refill them with and gave them to the woman. The woman continued to sob. And Elizabeth did, too.

The kind of negligence and cruelty of a system that asks caregivers to treat patients with Covid-19 without the proper protection, or ranks frontline staff by their worth and then dishes out life-protecting supplies based on that worth, is just too much for my heart, and frankly, it should be too much for anyone’s heart.

Around the country our hearts have been shattered, and the fault lines in our local and national systems have cracked wide open for all to see. The Covid-19 crisis has revealed both the incompetence and heartlessness of some of our institutions and also the deep humanity and bravery of our first responders, frontline essential workers and others who are stepping up to fill the gaps in our broken systems. While the generosity and ingenuity of local people and businesses are helping to hold our communities together, we are still in desperate need of a coordinated government response to the needs laid bare by this crisis.

It doesn’t have to be this way. There is more than enough alcohol in this country to provide sanitizer to everyone who needs it1. But Griffo’s efforts, while endless, are still ad hoc. I imagine the same is true of other businesses that have transformed their operations to make not just sanitizer but also masks and ventilators and meals for essential workers and volunteers.

The lack of government leadership in helping to match our supply with the overwhelming need has been shocking and disappointing. Given the dysfunction at the federal level, our state, county and city governments must create coordinated information sharing, procurement and distribution efforts that meet the needs of our first responders, frontline essential workers, and at-risk people (and everyone else, too).

They must create these systems so that each individual nurse or fire chief or homeless shelter doesn’t have to figure out how to find desperately needed sanitizer all on their own.

These systems aren’t just needed right now. More shocks to our systems are coming, as those of us who lived through the last few fire seasons in California know.

I keep telling myself to not forget that this isn’t okay. We can’t let our hearts become worn out by the heartache of it all. It does not have to be this way. So what else can we do to change it?

We can stay home.

We can shop local. Watch who shows up in your community right now then support them moving forward. Is it the big box stores? No. It's the small, locally owned shops.

We can thank a first responder.

We can thank someone whose work is so essential that the things that sustain each of our lives would fall apart if they didn’t risk their own lives to work.

They all deserve, at the least, the most basic supplies to keep them safe and a thanks.

We can fight the small and large battles to dismantle the systems of oppression, inequity and corporate power and profit that surround us every minute of normal life.

And we can vote. If our elected officials fail to take care of our people, we can vote them out. Every last one of them. We need to fight like hell to make sure that we have a government that meets the needs of this crisis and those yet to come. Lives literally depend on it.

Jenny Griffo, owner of Griffo Distillery, is a graduate of Stanford University, M.A.



  1. https://www.eia.gov/totalenergy/data/monthly/pdf/sec10_7.pdf