In early April, when the pandemic was keeping most Nebraskans home, Lew Sieber started setting his alarm for 4 a.m.
The 57-year-old would leave his northwest Lincoln home in the dark, headed for Innovation Campus and a 5,000-gallon tanker truck. He wanted to be first in line when the Green Plains ethanol plant near York opened at 7, and he had nearly an hour’s drive west ahead of him.
The tanker wasn’t completely empty. The night before, volunteers had added small amounts of glycerin, hydrogen peroxide and water -- three ingredients of hand sanitizer.
The high-purity ethanol Sieber picked up was the fourth.
“I’d get it loaded,” he said. “And then I’d get it shaken up on the way back to Lincoln.”
But even after he took the tanker and its lifesaving liquid to Innovation Campus, his day was just beginning. Now he had to drive nearly an hour to the northeast, to report for work at the Nebraska Forest Service near Mead.
He repeated this schedule two to three times a week for months, making 45 trips to York and picking up enough ethanol to help an impromptu team at UNL produce and package 200,000 gallons of sanitizer, just when the state needed it the most.