As Cristina Siaweleski watched the United States reckon in real time with the effects of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic on March 13, she could feel her emotions taking over.
“It was very unsettling that day, on Friday,” Cristina says. “I knew everything was closing, things were changing, and I was just very scared and nervous, like everybody else.”
But it was in the course of watching news reports — and the repeated call for gowns and masks for front-line medical personnel responding to the crisis — that Cristina, a client solutions executive in San Diego, found a way to give back.
“One of my managers at AT&T from 5 years ago … one of the things she instilled in us was always to serve and to help others,” Cristina says. “That’s always stuck with me.”
Cristina has also pursued her passion for sewing over the last several years, stitching together dancers’ costumes for TV programs and dance competitions in what she describes as a “fully-stocked sewing room … with industrial machines” in her home.
After a Facebook post asking for guidance on how to make a medical-grade mask — “I thought maybe if I put it out there, somebody can point me in the right direction,” she says now — Cristina got to work.
“On that weekend, I made my first one — it took me maybe 15 minutes,” Cristina says. “It wasn’t pretty, but I thought ‘The more you make, the better you get.’”
Cristina would get plenty of practice.
After she began making masks, she would offer them up on social media for donation. And they were in high demand. Cristina was donating her masks nearly as fast as she could finish them. Recipients of her masks include doctors and nurses at Kaiser Permanente Sacramento, Phoenix Children’s Hospital, Escondido Women’s Health, the University of Kansas and Sharp Memorial Oncology, among others.
Word of her mask-making spread far and wide, with President Trump even retweeting a message highlighting her work.
Three weeks and many hundreds of masks later, Cristina continues to dedicate her nights and weekends to this. She’s often sewing masks until 1 or 2 a.m., and when she’s not doing that in her off-work time, she’s focused on her new task: creating a drop-off site on her front porch for locals and making daily trips to the post office to send her masks across the country.
Cristina becomes deeply emotional describing the messages of gratitude she’s received from strangers. “It can bring anybody to tears,” she says of the conditions medical personnel are facing.
“I think all of us are at our best when we have a job, when we have a task,” Cristina says. “As long as you’re busy doing it, your mind is off of everything else that’s going on around you that’s negative. And even if you’re only helping one or two people – it’s a difference that adds up.”