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North East business owners make, donate hand sanitizer

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NORTH EAST — Kelly Benson is no stranger to mixing ingredients, which he does almost daily when preparing various dishes on the menu at his family’s Port House Grill restaurant on Main Street in North East. That goes likewise for his father, Hudson.

These days, however, the Bensons are blending ingredients that are new to them, and the concoction they create isn’t intended to please the palette. Instead, their mixture yields hand sanitizer that is designed to protect people from the coronavirus.

Supplying first responders

The Hudsons started making their own hand sanitizer about a month ago, and they have been supplying it to people in Cecil County for free, with an emphasis on first responders, hospital employees and residents who have been deemed essential workers.

In addition to Hudson and Kelly, ages 63 and 28 respectively, Hailey Benson, 23, is involved in the hand sanitizer production and distribution. Hailey is Hudson’s daughter and is Kelly’s sister.

Also collaborating in the hand sanitizer project is Don Harmer, who is co-owner of Weaver’s Liquors on West Pulaski Highway (Route 40) near North East. Harmer has assisted in filling bottles with the hand sanitizer.

“I frequent the Port House Grill, and I know Kelly, Hud and the gang there. I was eating there one day, and they were talking about the hand sanitizer shortage and what they were going to do to help – make small batches of it,” Harmer said.

That inspired Harmer to offer his help.

“This is really about the need of our paramedics, law enforcement officers and other first responders, as well as the need of our doctors, nurses and other hospital workers and the need of other essential employees,” Harmer commented.

Kelly told the Cecil Whig that he took a few necessary steps, before he could produce and distribute the hand sanitizer.

“I knew there was a need for hand sanitizer, especially for first responders and for people who work in hospitals. There are a lot of hand sanitizer recipes online, so I did a good amount of research on it,” Kelly said.

Becoming licensed

Although other ingredients, such as aloe, can be part part of the blend, hand sanitizer, under federal regulations, must be a solution of 80 percent ethanol, he added.

Kelly applied for a required federal small-batch distillery license, which he was granted, and then he and his family started producing and distributing the hand sanitizer, with the assistance of Harmer. The creation of the hand sanitizer, which adheres to federal guidelines, is done during spare time when Kelly and Hudson are not running the Port House Grill.

“We brought Hailey in specifically to manage the hand sanitizer project,” Hudson said, noting that, in addition to making and bottling the hand sanitizer, the effort involves distributing the hand sanitizer to essential agencies and individuals who have requested it.

The Bensons donated 10 gallons of their hand sanitizer to the Cecil County Department of Emergency Services earlier this month and also donated some to the North East Volunteer Fire Co.

On April 2, NEVFC expressed its gratitude in the following post on the department’s Facebook page: “The Officers & Members of North East Fire Company Inc. would like to give a huge shoutout to Port House Grill, who have partnered with Weaver’s Liquors, for the donation of hand sanitizer. We appreciate your efforts in making the hand sanitizer and (in) looking out for the safety and wellbeing of all.”

In general, individuals and representatives of agencies come to the Port House Grill to pick up their free hand sanitizer.

Taking orders and donations

Residents and representatives of essential employee agencies can get glass bottles of the homemade hand sanitizer for free by visiting the Port House Grill’s Facebook page. The hand sanitizer comes in two sizes, a 2-ounce bottle for individuals and a 32-ounce bottle that is for “central workplaces,” Kelly explained.

Although the hand sanitizer is free, the Benson family urges people who benefit from the offer to make donations to the Union Hospital Foundation in Elkton. The monetary contributions in exchange for the hand sanitizer is helping the foundation purchase “necessary medical supplies,” according to Kelly.

Kelly’s can-do attitude toward making hand sanitizer comes as no surprise to Harmer, who commented, “Hey, Kelly is a chef at a very good restaurant, and now he is a chef at making hand sanitizer.”

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