Alene Candles honors local leaders as ‘Milford Luminaries’

MILFORD – Even during a pandemic, Alene Candles, for the second year in a row, is praising those in the community who have given back helping families, friends and neighbors.

The Milford Luminaries program recognizes four outstanding individuals who have gone above and beyond during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Alene Candles president and CEO Rod Harl said there was never a doubt that the luminaries project would not continue.

“Last year was the first year where we did this,” he said. “And the response was terrific. It was strong enough that we wanted to come back and offer it again.”

In 2019, the program’s inaugural year, the Milford Luminaries recognized four outstanding individuals for their contributions to making Milford a great place to live and work. Alene Candles made $1,000 donations to: Beaver Brook Association on behalf of Celeste Philbrick Barr; Opportunity Networks on behalf of Rocky Morelli; the Boys & Girls Club of Souhegan Valley on behalf of Alan Woolfson; and SHARE Outreach on behalf of Frank Xydias, M.Ed.

Harl said there were many people who helped the area in tremendous ways during the COVID-19 shutdown and continue to help the community.

“We wanted to encourage and support the charitable contributions, the do-gooder aspects of the community,” Harl said. “This year had quite a series of changes for everyone. And our focus in the first half of the year, from March – May, was pivoting to making face masks and making sure we were doing our part to support the community.”

Earlier this year, Alene Candles transformed its Milford and New Albany, Ohio production facilities to assemble 60,000 face shields to help with the critical personal protective equipment shortage throughout the country. The company donated the face shields to more than 200 community organizations free of charge.

When March came and the coronavirus found its footing, Harl said Alene Candles’ strategic plan was to adjust and deal with the circumstance instead of reeling from it.

“During the week of March 16, we were receiving mixed guidance from the government, at the state and federal level,” he said. “There was confusion as to what we should be doing.”

Harl and some of his manufacturing friends of his across the eastern seaboard were comparing notes and sharing information about what was going on, as often as multiple times a day.

“We operated the week of the 16th with modest social distancing in place,” he stated. “As I was following the news that entire week, by Wednesday I said, ‘We need to plan to shut down at the end of this production week.’ We actually ran heavy and had some overtime at the end of the week running a couple of extra days so we could leave ourselves in a good position.”

After that week, Harl didn’t want his staff going through news media cycle after news media cycle by closing and opening up repeatedly. By the end of the week of March 16, he knew the company would have to take the next line of defense and determine a plan of action.

“We had done our first step,” he said. “So, the question was, ‘What do we do next?’ We had people, management and space. We couldn’t handle alcohol, because we simply weren’t engineered for that. We couldn’t make FDA regulated material, because we’re not an FDA compliant facility even though we use many of those procedures.”

The topic of making safety equipment came up. And while Harl and his team knew they could meet the task, there was still the issue of not having supplier relationships.

“We don’t source plastic typically,” he said.

By the end of March, Harl contacted the state and received a call regarding a possible plastic supplier and by using a Johns Hopkin design that one of Alene Candles’ engineers had downloaded, the manufacturing firm was up and running making face shields prototypes.

“Six components go into this,” Harl said. “Only one of them we had, which was a stapler. From the spray adhesive to the foam to the plastic shield and the elastic, all those became in short supply so we knew that we had to move quickly.”

One Alene Candles employee, senior manufacturing engineer Sarah Lambie began making a dozen trips to Maine to pick up sheet plastic in what Harl called, “a wartime atmosphere.”

During the first three weeks, Harl said it was a battle regimen with regular status updates and following COVID-19 news updates from CNN.

“In April, the supply chains had the ability for us to get materials,” he said. “The panic had subsided by then.”

That didn’t mean that Alene Candles would return to manufacturing their own products.

“We put a complete stop to that,” Harl said. “We started the mechanics of reopening on May 4 but May was sort of a wash for regardless. We made some candles in May but it was stop and start.”

Harl said that his company is ready for another surge, but ultimately, first and foremost, the firm will stand by its people.

“We will do what we think is best,” he said. “We as businesspeople really set the stage for what actions to take. If we have a second wave or trauma to the system, we can do the same thing.”