This time of year, seamstress Claudia Biezunski-Rodriguez is usually inundated with custom tailoring jobs from San Diego Comic-Con attendees and ramping up for her Halloween orders. Her sewing studio, Sew Loka, would usually have its doors open to her local community of Barrio Logan in San Diego, and Claudia would spend her days speaking to clients, meeting deadlines, and shuttling her 8-year-old daughter to and from school.
But when COVID-19 started to spread across California and Claudia saw there was a shortage of face masks, she decided to do something to help. "When I saw on the news that there was a shortage of these masks, I immediately knew that I could be useful to my community," she said. "I visited the CDC website, downloaded their face mask pattern, and instantly got to work."
Beyond having to shutter her doors to clients, Claudia made the decision to provide these masks to her community free of charge. "I knew that this very basic creation could potentially have a positive impact on the community that surrounded me," she said. "At that time, during the face mask shortage, I could not charge my people money for something they needed to survive — it did not seem right to me. People came from all over San Diego to my small sewing studio in Barrio Logan to pick up their free face masks, and many of them blessed me with freshly grown produce, canned food, fabric, elastic, and other means to keep the project moving forward. It was both incredible and exhausting, life changing and scary as hell."
Every day, for almost three months straight, Claudia got up at 7 a.m. to start working on face masks — and the need for masks from people from her community was increasing. "Staying focused on creating the masks helped to distract me from the nonstop stream of terrible news that flooded my TV screen," she said. "Businesses were closing down all around me, but I knew that if I kept my head down and focused on my craft, that everything would be OK in the end. I knew that sewing would save me, and I also knew that the community would have my back. The beautiful distraction of sewing mixed with the positive power of the neighborhood allowed me to survive during the first few months of this pandemic."
It's her community of Barrio Logan that has been the inspiration behind all of Claudia's efforts. Barrio Logan is just a few feet away from the historic Chicano Park and is considered a cultural and artistic center of San Diego. "It is a vibrant and active community that has fought tirelessly over the years to preserve their roots and to keep Chicano culture alive in San Diego," Claudia said.
And to give back to this community that has lifted her up, Claudia and other fellow small-business owners in the area have created an outdoor market event called Walk the Block, which opened for the first time on Aug. 8. "When I saw other small communities in San Diego come together to create outdoor experiences, I knew that Barrio Logan could also bring our community together in support of small business," Claudia said. "Many of the entrepreneurs that exist in Barrio Logan, along Logan Ave, are both creative and resilient, and that is why I knew we could achieve anything as long as we remained persistent and organized."
Even though times are tough, Claudia is still able to find positivity and strength from her craft and her community. "I know that, in reality, for many of us, the struggle has just begun, but I am confident that if we continue to stay active and are able to adapt, then we will surely be able to overcome this crisis together," she said. "Don't allow for your mind to wallow in the negative. Stay active. Busy hands are happy hands. Stay focused on small, achievable goals, and then complete them. Stay positive always!"