Photos by Hannah Kearse

Look for the helpers

COVID-19 is spreading but so is generosity

Local community members and businesses are responding to the COVID-19 coronavirus with ingenuity and kindness.

Generosity is spreading in Madison County to fight the novel virus. Willie’s Distillery has started manufacturing hand sanitizer, Nacho Mama’s is feeding truck drivers and quilters are sewing personal protective masks and gowns. 


Bottling supplies and raw ingredients for hand sanitizer continues to be difficult to acquire because of the worldwide demand.
But Willie’s Distillery began bottling its first batch of Food and Drug Administration grade hand sanitizer March 28.

The Ennis distillery’s hand sanitizer is more liquid than the product’s brand names, but it is effective.

Willie’s Distillery owner Willie Blazer said calls have come in from all over asking about the supply, from Atlanta to Salt Lake City.

“We’re trying to take care of our county first and see where our supply takes us,” Blazer said.

It was a community effort to get supplies. Madison Foods helped source the bottling for the first batch. Distilleries in southwest Montana like Headframe Spirits is Butte are working together to get glycerol, an ingredient needed in hand sanitizer.

The FDA and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives loosened its regulations to allow distilleries to produce hand sanitizer two days before Willie’s Distillery began ordering supplies. With an ample alcohol supply and much of the needed equipment, Willie’s Distillery produced hand sanitizer within two weeks.

“The first batch is already accounted for,” Blazer said.

Five-gallon buckets were donated to facilities in the county who have the greatest need for hand sanitizer – the nursing homes, hospitals, fire districts and first responders. Blazer is searching for one- gallon buckets to fill as well, but there are currently none to order.

Individual bottles of hand sanitizer can be bought in the Willie’s Distillery tasting room. Refills are not an option at the moment due to the nature of the novel virus. A second batch of Willie’s 80% hand sanitizer is in the works.


Kristy Ranson, owner of Nacho Mamas in Ennis and Virginia City, hired an out- of-work bartender to hand out free burritos to truck drivers on U.S. Highway 287.

The chartable act is contributing a solution to two realities of the COVID-19 pandemic. The hard-hit service industry has laid off millions of employees indefinitely, and communities everywhere rely on trucks to deliver goods during the uncertain times.

“People keep donating money and tipping really well,” Ranson said. “I wanted to pay it forward.”

Emily Pendleton, also known as Red, worked full- time at the Long Branch Saloon before its bar closed on March 19. Ranson recruited her to hand out free burritos, chips and water at the Cameron weigh station.

Pendleton and Ranson will team up for a second time on Wednesday and Thursday to fuel truck drivers on their route to deliver goods to people.


Quilters and sewers, from the Ruby to the Madison, are using their skills to make personal protective gear.

The shortage of personal protective equipment is worldwide. Masks and gowns are among the PPE needed to fight the COVID-19 pandemic. The many talented sewers of Madison County are reacting with ingenuity.

Madison Valley Medical Center and Ruby Valley Medical Center have posted instructions to the public for the preferred pattern. Assistant Chief Nursing Officer at RVMC, Lyn Baughn, made an instructive YouTube video while she self- quarantines at home.

People can pick up materials and drop off finished masks and gowns at Ennis Town Hall and Walter’s Family Foods in Sheridan. The masks and gowns will first be distributed to hospitals and senior centers. The masks are not N95-standard, but the world supply of N95 masks is depleting.

“Frankly as you move forward and you have the options of which kind of masks are better than others you want to save your really heavy-duty masks for heavy- duty times,” Madison Valley Manor activities director Leona Stredwick said.

Shaleena Walter, who works at Walter’s Family Foods and Tobacco Root Care Center, is collecting the finished pieces and delivering them to where they are needed. Fabric and sewers are abundant, but the elastic that is needed to secure masks to faces is running out.

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The Madisonian

65 N. MT Hwy 287
Ennis, MT 59729

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