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How are local distilleries making a difference? Using byproduct from distilling whiskey to make much-needed hand sanitizer.

It took about two rings for Joe Tappe to answer the phone Wednesday morning.

And he kept it brief because he was busy.

“We’re open,” Tappe said. “Come on by.”

He clicked off the call and stooped back over a cart covered in plastic containers. About 20 minutes before, his counterpart, Don Jenkins, had leaned into a metal drum, mixing its contents with an adapted drill before making his way over to help Tappe bottle their newest product.

The two distillers at Winston-Salem’s Broad Branch Distillery put their liquor-making skills to use for the good of the public: Making hand sanitizer to give out for free to combat the COVID-19 pandemic sweeping the nation. The ethanol produced for whiskey can be converted to battle bacteria in the amount of time it takes to mix a stiff drink.

“Just because we’ve got this sitting here and it needs to happen,” Tappe said of why they’re doing it. “There’s a need. There’s a role that we can play.”

Broad Branch, at 56 N .Trade St., is one of a few distilleries trying to help curb the shortage of hygiene products, and at least one of two in the Triad, the other being Old Nick Williams Farm and Distillery in Lewisville.

Broad Branch is focused on giving out its sanitizer free to the public, up to two bottles per person, while asking for donations to the Lynne H. Berry School Buddies Fund, which provides school supplies, clothing and such to local students in need..

Old Nick Williams along with Durham Distillery in the Triangle and others, is opting to donate its cleaning products to hospitality businesses. Zeb Williams, the owner of Old Nick Williams, said it exemplifies the quality people in the local liquor business.

“We’ve got a lot of good players that want to help and share information,” Williams said, “and help do the right thing, and it shows in times of need.”

Tappe and Jenkins said they hatched the idea to make hand sanitizer over the weekend. On Monday, they checked the proper channels — mainly the N.C. Alcoholic Beverage Control Commission — to make sure they could give the sanitizer away. Tappe said they also worked on the label and looked at container options.

Sessions Specialty in Lewisville donated 60-milliliter spray bottles to Broad Branch so it could start distribution Wednesday.

The production of hand sanitizer lines up perfectly with the distilling process. During the initial distillation phase, a nonpotable liquid is produced called “the head.” Normally, Broad Branch just gets rid of it since it can’t be consumed.

But the head can be converted to hand sanitizer by adding a couple of ingredients. Broad Branch adds water and glycol. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention mandates that hand sanitizer must be made of 60% ethanol, or 120 proof. But if the proof is too high, like 160 or 170, the alcohol evaporates too quickly and doesn’t kill the bacteria. Jenkins said Broad Branch’s hand sanitizer is about 136 proof, roughly 67% ethanol-based.

Broad Branch had bottles ready to go by noon, when Chuck and Ginny Rutter walked in for the first samples. Chuck Rutter and Broad Branch founder John Fragakis have been friends since the mid-1970s. The Rutters noticed the absence of hand sanitizer in every grocery store they walked through in the past week.

This was at least a way the couple could keep a little cleaner while helping the community.

“It was a dual purpose to buy hand sanitizer and help out a good cause,” Ginny Rutters said on the couple’s way out.

About 300 bottles were given away during the first day of distribution, Tappe said. Williams said they had one or two companies reach out, but North Carolina’s clampdown on restaurants probably dining thinned the initial rush.

But Williams wants local companies to know that Broad Branch is there to help.

Broad Branch, like all others in the service industry, had to shut down its tasting room and tours. And because restaurants are unable to serve dine-in customers, that’s fewer places for Broad Branch whiskeys to be sold.

As the distillery navigates this tough financial time, Tappe said the Broad Branch crew just wanted to do some good.

“We can do something while we’re making liquor besides just keep people company in their homes while they’re stuck,” Tappe said.

Online learning begins today in Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools

School is back in session today, Thursday, for local students.

But it will look a lot different for many of the 55,000 students in Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools as instruction moves online, a result of North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper’s executive order to shut down public schools for at least two weeks to stop the spread of the new coronavirus. At least 63 cases had been reported in North Carolina as of Wednesday, and that number is expected to grow. Three cases have been reported in the Triad.

Since Cooper’s order on Saturday, the local school system’s teachers and staff members have been scrambling to figure out how to best teach and reach their students using an array of digital platforms, including PowerSchool Learning, where teachers can post lessons and hold discussions; and Zoom, videoconferencing software that allows teachers and students to talk in real time.

Superintendent Angela Hairston said the school system’s technology and school teams have done impressive work.

“Of course, there are always going to be a few hiccups, but we are working through those. Our teams across the district have really rallied to support our students,” Hairston said. “We are doing everything we can to help our families and to keep the learning alive.”

Families are encouraged to get their children on a schedule and follow a basic routine. And assignments will be reviewed and graded.

The school system expected to distribute Chromebooks to 18,000 students Tuesday and Wednesday so they would be ready to plug in today. Some of those students will have to wait, however, as 4,000 mobile hot spots the school system ordered earlier this week will not be available until next week.

A steady line of parents, some with kids in tow, waited in line for their Chromebooks at Griffith Elementary School on Wednesday. Staff members, some in disposable gloves, manned the entrance, making sure the gymnasium didn’t exceed the 100-person limit for gatherings, another Cooper mandate.

“Welcome to device central,” said Principal Ceretha Mitchell, surveying the buzz of activity. “We practice air-hugs.”

The gymnasium was set up with different stations where students could pick up a packet of their books and worksheets, touch base with their teachers and check out their laptops. Kids were also allowed to choose a free book to take home with them.

Griffith planned to loan about 500 Chromebooks to its students.

Jessica Pyrtle, whose son Chance is a fourth-grader at Griffith, stood in line waiting to check out a Chromebook.

Pyrtle said that with four children in school, she was dreading the rollout of home-based e-learning.

“Honestly, I expect a train wreck,” she said. “It’s going to be difficult with working and juggling their school work. And I’m not sure how long I’ll be working.”

Pyrtle works in a hotel.

Tomeka Roseboro’s son, Jaylen, has been keeping busy studying for End of Grade tests, playing video games and doing chores.

“He’s maturing, so I hope this is a good experience for him. And I hope he doesn’t fall behind,” Roseboro said.

Each school assembled a team in early March in anticipation of a possible shutdown, and asked them to lead their respective school’s digital transition.

At Griffith, first grade teacher Dona Fraas, third grade teacher Jenna Moreno and instructional facilitator Crystal Donley led the charge, assisting teachers with various technology challenges, helping them find online learning resources and showing them how to put their lessons and assignments on PowerSchool Learning.

Teachers at Griffith will spend the first several days reviewing lessons rather than dive into new material. Some teachers there also plan to read aloud to their students as a way to reconnect with them.

Staff will be able to tell early on whether students are logging on, and if they’re not, the staff will get in touch with parents to make sure everything is OK.

The school makes wide use of Class DoJo, software that connects schools and families. It has the ability to translate messages into Spanish, a helpful tool considering the school’s high number of Spanish-speaking parents.

Parents are encouraged to contact the school if they’re having any problem with technology or schoolwork.

Teachers outside of the core classes are trying to be creative with their lessons. For instance, Griffith’s physical-education teacher, Donald Lamonte took a video of himself running.

One upside to the shutdown has been the way teachers around the country have rallied to share their resources and methods, Fraas said.

Art teachers, for example, are making use of a new daily drawing lesson on YouTube by children’s book illustrator Mo Willems.

“It blows my mind that we’re all in this situation,” Moreno said.

Elementary-school teachers form especially close bonds with their students and it’s eating at many of them, such as Fraas and Moreno, that they can’t see their students during such a trying time.

“I miss these kids. I wonder if they’re OK,” Moreno said. “I wonder if they’re eating.”

Most of the children at Griffith qualify for free breakfast and lunch, and teachers worry about the ones they haven’t seen come in for meals.

“They are our kids at the end of the day,” Fraas said.

Four who lost in Democratic primary for Winston-Salem municipal seats file election protest alleging corruption

Four candidates for Winston-Salem office who were defeated in the March 3 Democratic primary have filed election protests alleging that an unnamed person may be “controlling the winners and losers of Winston-Salem elections.”

The four — JoAnne Allen, Eunice Campbell, Phil Carter and Carolyn Highsmith — filed the protests Tuesday with the Forsyth County Board of Elections. Allen ran for mayor and the others ran for city council seats.

They are basing their allegations on remarks by Winston-Salem City Council Member Vivian Burke during a 2018 council meeting, in which she said “somebody in this city” would keep her in office “as long as I want to stay.”

Burke, a Democratic who represents the Northeast Ward, said she was talking about the voters, not some person that the protest suggests is working behind the scenes.

The elections board will hold a meeting by telephone at 10 a.m. Friday to consider whether the four candidates have established probable cause of a violation or irregularity. The next step would be a hearing if the elections board finds the allegations sufficient.

If not, the protesters could appeal their cases to the State Board of Elections.

All four candidates are questioning whether the “somebody” Burke mentioned will make sure Burke’s daughter-in-law, Barbara Hanes Burke, retains the seat that Vivian Burke now holds. Barbara Burke won the Democratic nomination to represent the Northeast Ward on March 3. None of the four protesting candidates ran for the Northeast Ward seat.

Vivian Burke, 85, said in December 2019 that she would not run for reelection after 42 years on the council. Burke will fill out her term, which ends in December of 2020, after the Nov. 3 general election.

The four are asking for digital copies of all ballots cast in the March 3 primary, the names of all who voted in the election, copies of all complaints made during the election and information relating to the shortage of Democratic Party ballots that occurred at the Miller Park polling place. A number of electronic logs and records associated with the primary were also requested.

The Miller Park polling place is in Southwest Ward. Allen, running for mayor, was the only protesting candidate voters at that site could cast ballots for.

The four say the records are needed to verify the election results, and they want a new vote if the results are shown to be inaccurate.

Burke made the remarks cited in the protest during the Sept. 17, 2018, meeting of the city council. After Allen made some remarks critical of the council. Burke responded by saying that she could stay in her seat “40 more years if the Lord will let me,” and that she had “somebody in this city” that would keep her in office “as long as I want to stay.”

Burke went on to say that critics could do nothing to keep her from office:

“I can stay forever. Understand that,” Burke said.

In their protest, the four say Burke’s remarks are evidence enough to challenge the election result:

“It is clear that ‘somebody’ is controlling the winners and losers of Winston-Salem elections,” the protest documents say. “Ms. Burke needs to be called as a witness to clarify who she is talking about in the video who could keep her in office as long as she wanted to stay, and that ‘somebody’ also needs to be a witness.”

Burke, asked Tuesday about the remark, said what she actually said was that it was the voters who keep her in office. When a Winston-Salem Journal reporter pointed out that video of the meeting clearly records her using the word “somebody,” Burke called it “a misunderstanding.”

“It should have said, I have citizens in this city,” Burke said. “I tell everybody: I have citizens in this city who keep me in office. I couldn’t stay there if they did not have confidence in me. It’s the people who keep me in office, the people of the Northeast Ward.”

Burke went on to say she never intended to suggest that there was any one person who kept her in office.

The protesting candidates call Burke’s remarks proof of “corruption.” They say voters need to know the identity of the “somebody’ she referred to in 2018:

“Who was keeping Ms. Burke in office?” the protest documents say. “Who was making sure that Ms. Burke was always re-elected no matter what the voters wanted? Will that same person keep Ms. Burke’s daughter-in-law in office who just ‘won’ election in the Northeast Ward? Did that ‘somebody’ make sure that I lost my bid to be elected?”

Burke, the longest-serving member of the city council, was first elected to office in 1977. During last fall’s filing period, three candidates filed to run for the Democratic nomination. In addition to Hanes Burke, Morticia “Tee-Tee” Parmon and Keith King ran for the post. Election Day saw Burke getting 57% of the vote.

No Republican filed for the office.

Paula McCoy, the retired director of Neighbors for Better Neighborhoods, has announced plans to run as an unaffiliated candidate for the Northeast Ward in the general election this fall. McCoy is not among those filing the protest.

Allen gave incumbent Mayor Allen Joines his strongest-ever primary challenge, gathering 31% of the nearly 39,000 votes cast.

Campbell, running against incumbent North Ward Council Member D.D. Adams, gathered 25% of the vote in the two-person race. Carter was one of three candidates challenging incumbent Annette Scippio in East Ward. Carter got 22% of the vote in the contest, which Scippio won with 40% of the total vote.

Highsmith, one of two challengers to incumbent John Larson in South Ward, won 32% of the vote in her contest, which Larson won with 47% of the total

Winston-Salem mayor: City pledges $1M toward $2M fund that will help people hurt economically by coronavirus pandemic

Winston-Salem Mayor Allen Joines announced Wednesday that the city will contribute $1 million to local nonprofit organizations to help people affected by the economic fallout of the coronavirus pandemic.

The city is asking the community to chip in another $1 million to swell the relief endeavor to $2 million.

Called the COVID-19 Response Fund for Forsyth County, the effort was established by a partnership between United Way of Forsyth County, the Winston-Salem Foundation, the city of Winston-Salem, Forsyth County and Community Organizations Active in Disaster.

Joines and other community leaders announced the undertaking Wednesday afternoon outside City Hall.

Joines’ voice sank almost to a whisper as he was caught up in an emotional reaction during the announcement.

“Clearly, we understand the concerns of our citizens today,” he said. “Many of them, including me, feel like the world has been turned upside down, and in a lot of ways it has. We have all been approached by individuals who have lost their jobs or seen their jobs diminish, the store closings, the restaurant closings ...”

And, Joines said, many people “have asked me, ‘What can we do to help?’”

The new fund won’t be directly paying people who need help. The money will go to nonprofits with expertise in providing that help, officials said.

The first phase of the effort will be the awarding of grants to nonprofits, giving them one-time general operating support to help them tackle the immediate needs of people who are feeling the sharpest effects of the pandemic.

United Way of Forsyth County and the Winston-Salem Foundation will administer the new fund.

Among those expected to get help, officials said, are people without health insurance or access to paid sick leave, the homeless and health-care workers.

The fund will help people in the hospitality and service industries affected by the pandemic, along with unauthorized immigrants, minorities and people with a limited ability to speak English.

An application process for organizations to request money is expected to be available by March 27.

Joines said the effort already has commitments totaling $600,000 from foundations, businesses and individuals.

More information about the fund is available at https://app.mobilecause.com/vf/COVID19Forsyth.

People can also make donations through the website.

The Winston-Salem Foundation and the United Way have each contributed $100,000 to the cause. Hanesbrands Inc., Wells Fargo & Co., Wake Forest Baptist Health and Reynolds American Inc. have also contributed.

“I feel confident that we are going to get above $2 million,” Joines said. The city money will come from the economic-development bonds that city voters approved in 2018.

Appearing for the county were Commissioner Dave Plyler, the chairman of the board of commissioners, and Commissioner Fleming El-Amin.

Plyler said the county has not contributed to the fund, “but that is not to say we won’t.”

He said the coronavirus pandemic is taking an emotional toll on people as well.

“I frankly have never seen, in the years I have been on earth, anything like this,” Plyler said. “I don’t know what’s going to happen. None of us know exactly what’s going to happen.”

Cindy Gordineer, the president and chief executive of the United Way, said its partner organizations are being directed to shift their efforts to meet basic needs.

Gordineer said that people who need help won’t get money directly from the fund, which will distribute the money to the various nonprofit groups. Individuals should call 211 for help, or go to www.nc11.org.

Scott Wierman, the president of the Winston-Salem Foundation, noted how quickly things are changing during the pandemic.

“This situation is extremely fluid,” Wierman said, “and we are committed to remaining flexible, so as to best meet the needs that arise in the days and weeks to come.”