Big Hole volunteers fight pandemic

M.P. Regan
Wednesday, July 29, 2020
Big Hole volunteers fight pandemic

A handful of people got together this year to start a project that continues to keep many hands free of the novel coronavirus in the Big Hole Valley.

“A small group of folks got it rolling,” said Tom Healy, one of those people who founded the Big Hole Valley Health Initiative in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and in time for summer tourism season.

“When the whole COVID thing started to become a national inevitability, we had a few folks here who thought that a place like the Big Hole Valley probably wouldn’t be threatened too badly in the first few months, but who figured that when people would begin to travel here in the summer—that’s when the Big Hole would be at a greater risk,” recalled Healy of the genesis of the valley’s ongoing anti-coronavirus effort.

“So, we started to think about what we could do to help protect the people in the community and the businesses here,” added Healy of the project that eventually spread from Wisdom and Jackson, to Wise River, Divide, Melrose and even to Polaris in the Grasshopper Valley.

That help has come in the form of more than 100 gallons of hand sanitizer, a hundred bottles of spray sanitizer and 300 bottles of liquid hand sanitizer distributed throughout the project area, where “98 percent of the businesses we have approached have been not just grateful, but ecstatic for the chance to participate,” according to Healy, one of the members of the project’s core of leaders.

“It’s a diverse group of folks who put it together. Nobody ever looked at it through the lens of politics, but altruism. We just wanted to do something positive for the community,” said Healy of the effort that has been bolstered by the volunteer work of, among others, Kiri Jorgenson, Doran Fluckiger and the Southern Montana Phone Company that proved integral to distribution into the outer reaches of the valley, the Big Hole Valley Association, and Ken and Jane Wiggen, who donated and designed the stickers for the hand sanitizer bottles.

The Wisdom Community Center served as the sort of headquarters for the project in its early days, when volunteers decanted alcohol from a 55-gallon drum bought from a Butte distillery into one-gallon bottles, and then into smaller hand soap dispensers brought to and cleaned out at the center before being filled with hand sanitizer and taken to businesses and every post office in the valley.

The Wisdom Community Center also gained a grant to help fund the project, which got an additional fiscal boost from a state grant and a wildfire of a fundraiser.

“It took just 12 hours,” said Healy of the social media fundraiser that reached out to anglers and hunters and other regular visitors to the valley, and which reached its goal in less than a day of raising the approximately $900 raised to purchase a second 55-gallon drum from the distillery for sanitizer.

The project has also put up signage to educate people and encourage healthy behaviors in relation to the coronavirus.

“We have window stickers in a lot of places and banners in most of the towns saying ‘welcome, but pay attention, stay healthy and follow guidelines,” said Healy, whose group has also distributed thousands of masks in the project area.

“Some people aren’t really into this mask thing, but if you give them one, they will use it. It’s just another way to help people do the right thing and keep our community as healthy as we can,” said Dennis Havig, a member of the board of directors for the Wisdom Community Center.

“We didn’t provide masks right away, but finally decided to order and offer them to any business that wanted them,” said Healy of a notion that has led to the distribution of 2000 protective masks.

“The day we got our first shipment of masks was same day the governor’s order came through that people need to wear masks,” recalled Healy.

For more information on the Big Hole Valley Health Initiative, go to the Wisdom Community Center’s Facebook page, write PO Box 66, Wisdom 59761 or email