MEHOOPANY, Pa. - The Procter & Gamble factory in Mehoopany, Pennsylvania, has long been a key fixture of the rural community.
Generations of families have worked there. The Wyoming County United Way counts P&G, which opened its plant in 1966, as its biggest financial supporter. While a map shows the facility tucked neatly into a curve of the Susquehanna River, it’s a physically large presence.
And though few people outside Wyoming County know all that, shoppers have cleared shelves of its products across the country in recent weeks.
Bounty paper towels and napkins, Pampers and Luvs diapers and Charmin toilet paper are all made at P&G’s largest U.S. factory, which is also adding face masks to its output.
The plant is located about an hour's drive south of downtown Binghamton mostly along rural and scenic Route 267. It employs about 2,200 people who are getting temperature checks and being encouraged to practice social distancing as they continue churning out the products that Americans have been stockpiling as the coronavirus spreads. Mehoopany Township was reported in 2017 to be home to only 896 people.
Around the time social media started filling up with photos of barren shelves, “miles upon miles of tractor trailers” could be seen waiting to pick up P&G’s products from Mehoopany, said Kristen Huff, executive director of the Wyoming County United Way.
Slowdown in rural community
Outside the factory and distribution center, most businesses have slowed down.
The P&G factory “is a huge manufacturing facility basically in the middle of what was once just vast farmland on the Susquehanna River,” said Maryellen Condeelis, Mehoopany Township’s secretary/treasurer. “We are still an extremely small rural community.”
Mehoopany and Meshoppen, a small borough a few miles north of the factory, “each have a restaurant and a gas station,” and the restaurants are still offering take-out, according to Wyoming County Chamber of Commerce President Gina Suydam.
Tunkhannock, the county seat that sees much of P&G’s truck traffic, “has a beautiful downtown with retail shops and restaurants and a beautifully restored Dietrich Theater & Wyoming County Cultural Center, but right now all of those places have fallen silent,” Suydam said, and “many of the restaurants closed because take-out alone could not sustain their operations.”
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Huff is running the United Way from her Tunkhannock home, and will coordinate a local coronavirus relief fund once the county’s needs are clearer.
No COVID-19 ... yet
Wyoming County was one of the last eight counties in Pennsylvania without a reported COVID-19 case, as of the Pennsylvania Department of Health’s update on Monday.
If and when cases do come, the nearest treatment option is Tyler Memorial Hospital, a 48-bed facility about a 10-minute drive east of the factory. The Tunkhannock hospital has begun checking all patients for signs of COVID-19.
While the county’s rural nature and low population afford it some protection, it borders two counties — Lackawanna and Luzerne — with severe enough outbreaks to fall under Gov. Tom Wolf’s stay-at-home order.
And P&G’s workers are spread across about six counties, judging by the number of county United Way organizations Huff usually sees represented at fundraising time.
Employees who can work from home are doing so, according to a P&G spokeswoman Loren Fanroy.
“Where employees are present in our facilities, we have distanced operating teams and eliminated meetings or events that congregate groups of people. We have constant sanitization of all areas, including cleaning every four hours and surface disinfection, exceeding the most rigorous standards as defined by the health authorities,” Fanroy said.
While locals said having the P&G plant nearby doesn’t give them an edge in finding its products at the store, Huff was also quick to note that the company asked her what agencies it could donate diapers to.
“They’re truly like the most generous company,” she said.
This article originally appeared on Binghamton Press & Sun-Bulletin: Coronavirus toilet paper shortage: Procter & Gamble plant responds