Alumni respond to massive changes in business operations due to coronavirus pandemic

USF St. Petersburg campus alumni Ashley Lowery (left) and Desiree Chubb.

(July 27, 2020) – On St. Patrick’s Day, one of the busiest drinking days of the year, 3 Daughters Brewing in St. Petersburg was advised to close down as the coronavirus pandemic spread across Florida.

For Desiree Chubb, who runs the brewery’s quality assurance lab, the closure did not interrupt her work in testing the quality and consistency of the craft beer ingredients. But the skill set she developed first as a biology graduate at USF’s St. Petersburg campus and then working in the science of beer fermentation – a combination of chemistry, microbiology and cell biology – equipped her to do something else during this health crisis: make hand sanitizer.

“Mike Harting, the owner of 3 Daughters Brewing, came to me and said, ‘You are a chemist, do you know how to make hand sanitizer?” said Chubb. “I believed we had the ingredients already to do so, but I didn’t know exactly. I contacted the World Health Organization, did research on the ratio of different ingredients required and within an hour told Mike we absolutely can make it safely and in large quantities for the public.”

For the next 40 days, the brewery made hand sanitizer.

Chubb was one of many USF St. Petersburg campus alumni whose day-to-day jobs changed significantly due to the pandemic.

Running a campus shelter during a pandemic
Ashley Lowery, the president and CEO of the Homeless Empowerment Program, oversees a team that provides food, housing and clothing for just under 400 individuals and families. Lowery leads about 70 staff members at an eight-acre campus in Clearwater, where individuals receive services such as child care and job training. Veterans have access to a clubhouse, garden, dining hall and kitchen, as well as on-site medical care and mental health counseling.

The pandemic altered normal operations by making close contact with others risky, and for some individuals, unsafe.

“Over 60 percent of the people we serve are elderly or have chronic conditions, so they are the most vulnerable to this virus,” said Lowery, a 2012 marketing graduate of the Kate Tiedemann School of Business and Finance.

The Homeless Empowerment Program made the decision early in the pandemic to close the campus to the public and have staff work remotely for about three to four weeks. Then, when the non-profit slowly brought back employees to the campus, Lowery had to figure out how to alternate shifts to reduce the amount of people on the campus among those staying in the shelter, staff and the many volunteers who help out each year.

“One of the hardest things was to develop alternating schedules of who can come to the campus to provide essential services and who should stay home. And, of course, we had some of our staff exposed to the virus who then couldn’t work at all, so that leads to even more changes in schedules,” explained Lowery.

Beyond staffing, finances and costs shifted significantly with heightened health concerns and protocols. The project serves around 300 meals a day out of its kitchen. Now each meal includes to-go packaging, the kitchen undergoes more in-depth cleanings and staff wear masks and other personal protective equipment to reduce risk of exposure to coronavirus, all at a significant expense to the organization.

While costs soared, donations began drying up. A large source of donations was food items, but the organization could no longer take hand-to-hand donations, so they were left to buy most of the food they provide. Furthermore, a great source of the non-profit’s income, fundraisers, were canceled due to the ban on large gatherings.

“It is especially hard this time of year as we normally do a lot of back to school drives that benefit the kids at the campus,” said Lowery.

To combat these changes, the nonprofit applied and received COVID-19 relief funds, focused on more online donation drives and created an emergency shopping list of food and cleaning supplies that people can purchase and drop off at their thrift store.

Then intern Desiree Chubb worked in a brewing lab to test batched of beer at 3 Daughters Brewing. Photo credit: Oracle Photo/Christopher Collier

Learning lessons in a fluid situation
The first batch of hand sanitizer by 3 Daughters filled 450 4-ounce bottles. Then the brewery started receiving requests from local hospitals, first responders and nursing homes.

With material and financial help from partners such as Chemical Systems, the Milky Family Foundation and Jabil, along with investing more than $85,000 of their own, 3 Daughters ramped up production, eventually producing 3,000 gallons of hand sanitizer.

At the same time, they continued brewing. With bars closed, people bought beer off the shelves at greater rates.

Beer and hand sanitizer may seem starkly different, but Chubb discovered similarities producing both.

“The foundation is the same. You are putting together a recipe, doing production and testing it throughout the process. The only difference is I am providing it to a different population of people for a different reason,” she said.

Even months after transitioning, 3 Daughters is still producing hand sanitizer and plans to keep doing so as long as the requests keep coming in from the public.

As the effects from the pandemic stretched into the summer and likely will continue into the fall, Lowery plans to keep the big picture and the mission of her organization at top of mind as she navigates the fluid situation.

“Our primary goal is to continue to provide the vital services that individuals and families need who rely on the Homeless Empowerment Program,” she said. “We are fortunate that we have dedicated staff and a large network of donors and businesses who continue to support us and keep us afloat.”

She added that even with the challenges, there are always silver linings.

“The pandemic has shown that our employees can still work effectively from home and even with the remote nature at times of running this organization, we strengthened our teamwork.”

Chubb shared a similar sentiment about teamwork when reflecting back on the last couple of months.

“I want to give a special thanks to all the staff who pitched in on this effort. Without staff and volunteers to come in and wear masks and sit in a sterile environment and work with flammable chemicals, we wouldn’t have produced much of anything,” she said. “They came in and volunteered their time and we are grateful for that.”