Dan Baker knew he could help his community, in dire need of hand sanitizer, if only he could get his hands on some alcohol.
The 44-year-old founder and owner of Baker White Inc., an e-cigarette company based in Ramsey, already had one of the key ingredients, glycerin, in stock and the necessary equipment to whip up a large batch of sanitizer.
After Anoka County Commissioner Matt Look responded to his call for help, the two strangers headed out in a truck across the state to western Minnesota to an ethanol plant where they picked up a vat of denatured alcohol.
Baker and his employee, Barry Petersen, mixed up 500 gallons of hand sanitizer. Nearly all was gone within two days as hundreds of cars waited in line at the Anoka County Fairgrounds to fill their empty bottles.
"There were people crying," Baker said. "It's not the answer, but people are scared. Even if it doesn't have a huge impact on the virus, it makes people feel a little better."
Volunteers are delivering around 100 gallons of leftover hand sanitizer to the elderly and immune-compromised, and the rest will be donated to those in the medical field.
A private company that delivers oxygen tanks reached out for a few liters, as well as Lifsprk, a home health care service company based in St. Louis Park, Look said.
Even the Hennepin County Sheriff's Office picked up 15 gallons of his COVID-19-fighting concoction, Baker added.
E-cigarette companies have taken a huge hit in recent years from critics who said they target youth. Baker White Inc. was founded in 2013 and business is dying down after the vaping scare, he said. But his efforts might change some perceptions.
If Baker can find another ethanol company to donate more alcohol, he said, he'll make more hand sanitizer. Look said they might do a small-scale operation in St. Francis.
"There seems to be a huge need," Look wrote in an e-mail. "Problem is alcohol [and] ethanol being sold to Canada. Legislators should be aware of this. In a crisis like this, Minnesota should get priority."