Responding to Needs

Rural America Rallies to Fight COVID-19

Groups across rural America are sewing masks, while companies are finding ways to make sanitizer or simply donate money to help fight COVID-19. Staff at the Texas A&M Veterinary Medical Diagnostic Laboratory in College Station, Texas, are taking viral sampling kits normally used for animals and repurposing the materials to make more than 2,000 COVID-19 sampling kits for Texas hospitals. (Photo courtesy of Texas A&M University System)

OMAHA (DTN) -- While the country might be overwhelmed with the negativity surrounding COVID-19, individuals, institutions and businesses are also doing what they can to help battle the virus. People across the country are breaking out sewing machines, while tech schools are putting 3-D printing machines to use to help make face masks and shields.

An example of these efforts is a volunteer firefighter in Wisconsin who provided directions on how to make a simple, three-pleat face mask with ties: https://docs.google.com/….

Another is Lake Area Tech Institute in Watertown, South Dakota, which put its students and faculty to work making face masks. They could use some financial support and more supplies. Find out more by visiting https://www.lakeareatech.edu/….

Here are some other efforts by businesses, colleges and groups to slow the spread of COVID-19 and help aid communities and farmers affected by the pandemic.

SANITIZER, DONATIONS TO FIGHT COVID-19 RISE

Biofuel producers and others in the bioenergy business have taken a number of steps to help in the fight against COVID-19.

Since the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) relaxed rules regarding the production of hand sanitizers, a number of ethanol companies have stepped up to fill the demand.

Iowa ethanol producers Absolute Energy and Southwest Iowa Renewable Energy, along with Iowa biodiesel producer Western Iowa Energy donated ethanol and glycerin to the state of Iowa for hand sanitizer production by Iowa Prison Industries. The finished product will be distributed free of charge by the state.

Omaha-based Green Plains Inc. announced a donation of industrial ethanol to the Nebraska Department of Correctional Services to produce hand sanitizer. The ethanol was produced at the company's York, Nebraska, plant. In addition, Pacific Ethanol announced in a recent earnings call that it was selling industrial ethanol to produce hand sanitizer as well.

Archer Daniels Midland also announced last week it was donating about $1 million to a variety of organizations fighting the virus. The contributions include commitments to the COVID-19 Solidarity Response Fund for the World Health Organization, various regional and local charities in the areas where ADM operates, and matches to ADM employee contributions to COVID-19 relief and mitigation.

In addition, ethanol enzymes producer Novozymes announced it is developing a method of washing plastic test plates used in COVID-19 testing, to allow them to be safely reused.

TEXAS A&M VET LABS COBBLE TOGETHER 2,000 COVID-19 SAMPLING KITS

Staff at the Texas A&M Veterinary Medical Diagnostic Laboratory in College Station, Texas, are taking viral sampling kits normally used on hogs, cattle and poultry and repurposing the materials to make more than 2,000 COVID-19 sampling kits for Texas hospitals.

Texas A&M said the sampling kits were being assembled from lab supplies already in stock at four veterinary labs across the state. Kits consist of a swab, a vial with transport media to preserve the sample in the vial, and a bag. The components of the kits are approved by FDA and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for use in sampling humans for the COVID-19 virus.

Bruce Akey, director of the Texas A&M Veterinary Medical Diagnostic Laboratory, said he sent out a plea for supplies to the other Texas A&M labs in Amarillo, Center and Gonzales, and they began overnighting the supplies late last week.

"We are assembling the supplies into sampling kits here in our College Station lab," Akey said. "We know that 2,000 may not seem like much when there are 20-plus-million Texans at risk that may need testing, but if you need to be tested and you can't right now because they don't have this kit, then it's a pretty big deal to you and your family. So we are doing what we can right now."

Once assembled, the kits will be shipped likely early next week to hospitals in cities with a Texas A&M System campus to help meet the surge in needed test kits, including campuses in Galveston, McAllen and the Texas A&M School of Law in Fort Worth.

Such virus sampling kits usually cost about $4 to $5 if you were to order them in bulk before the pandemic swept through the existing stock. Now, these simple supplies are back-ordered for months, crippling efforts to test humans for COVID-19.

CRYSTAL SUGAR, OTHER MINNESOTA FIRMS FIND WAYS TO HELP

American Crystal Sugar Company in Moorhead, Minnesota, noted on their Twitter account that, "With the shortage of hand sanitizer in our area, our Moorhead factory lab produced homemade sanitizer with 66% isopropyl alcohol and homemade wipes with Wypalls."

Lisa Borgen, American Crystal's vice president of administration said, "All of our factories in the Red River Valley have quality labs with chemists and other lab personnel. We have produced our own hand sanitizer in each lab to ensure our employees have an ample supply. We have also produced a disinfecting solution for cleaning throughout the plants."

Another Minnesota-based business, Love Your Melon, is best known for its colorful hats. The company was founded in an entrepreneurship class at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minnesota, by two friends, Zachary and Brian, who wanted to start a business with a meaningful and positive social impact.

Fifty percent of net profit from the sale of all Love Your Melon products is given to support charitable programming through the Love Your Melon Fund and the nonprofits they support. The company is now making cotton facemasks for adults and children to aid in the fight against COVID-19.

The company has noted that, once it reaches its goal of making enough masks for hospitals, the plan is to open sales to the public. It would be a "buy one, give one," so if you buy a mask for yourself, another would be given to someone in a hospital who needs it.

Love Your Melon hopes to make 50,000 masks over the next two weeks. Their website has a link where team members at a children's hospital, care facility or nonprofit organization working with children battling cancer and their families can fill out a form to request masks: https://loveyourmelon.com/….

Other Minnesota companies have also joined the COVID-19 fight by stopping normal production and instead making personal protective equipment (PPE). Lakeview Industries in Carver, Minnesota, normally makes custom rubber, plastic and foam parts for a wide variety of industries -- agriculture, automotive, lawn mowers, medicine and power generators, just to name a few.

Television station KARE 11 in Minneapolis reported on March 31 that the company's owner, John Schwanke, wanted to help with the shortage of PPEs and came up with a plan to make face shields. He said his company had enough raw material to make 8 million of these shields. As of April 1, they have made more than 100,000 of the shields and had anticipated shipping 250,000 a day starting this past week. Besides taking orders to purchase the masks, the company has also been donating them locally.

AFT'S FARMER RELIEF FUND

The staff at the American Farmland Trust came up with the idea last week to help farmers who sell direct to consumers, so they started the Farmer Relief Fund with the goal of perhaps providing $1,000 checks to as many as 1,000 of these farmers.

"We wanted to try to find a way to provide some aid to these farmers who do not have a direct connection to FSA (the Farm Service Agency)," said John Piotti, president of AFT.

But the demand for aid right now might overwhelm AFT's ability to meet it. While the fund had raised more than $75,000 earlier this week, the group had received more than 2,000 applications for aid.

To contribute to the Farmer Relief Fund, go to https://farmland.salsalabs.org/…

Readers who see more efforts in rural America to help fight COVID-19 are invited to send those details or tips to edit@dtn.com.

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Editor's note: DTN Ag Policy Editor Chris Clayton, DTN Cash Grains Analyst Mary Kennedy and DTN Staff Reporter Todd Neeley contributed to this article.

(SK/AG)