Elizabeth McCarthy, a nurse at Stanford Hospital, gets what it's like to want to smack the bejesus out of the coronavirus.
The Menlo Park resident has been taking care of patients with COVID-19 throughout the pandemic, and knows better than most the anger and frustration that many people feel toward the invisible virus that has taken so many lives and derailed so many plans.
Now, she's offering a way for people to get that cathartic thrill as an artisan making handmade, biologically accurate piñatas shaped like the coronavirus.
The project creatively combines McCarthy's background as a nurse and as a crafty connoisseur of Mexican folk art. Before becoming a nurse, she was a cake decorator who specialized in creating sugar skulls celebrating Mexico's Day of the Dead.
After the first COVID-19 vaccine was approved, she said, "I started thinking, people are going to start wanting to celebrate. What better way to celebrate the end of COVID than by having a COVID piñata where you can beat COVID with a stick?"
Piñatas had long been associated with birthday celebrations in her household – as one of four children in her family, they were always a part of birthday parties, and the garage door that the family's piñatas were suspended over accumulated some scars over the years from blindfolded strikes missing their targets, she said.
After running across images of other coronavirus piñatas online, she said, she decided to try crafting her own.
"I saw some that looked poorly done, and as a nurse, they didn't look very accurate, either," she said.
She developed a series of prototypes, honing the design over time. Cardboard turned out to be too stiff for the piñatas, while tissue paper was too flimsy. She found a certain type of paperboard to create the front and back, and made the sides with corrugated cardboard. It's stuck together with fiberglass-reinforced paper packing tape, like what comes on Amazon boxes, and some of the decorative elements, like textured, shiny crepe paper, are sourced from Italy. The red protein spikes are made of shiny red paper straws and pom pom balls, she said.
McCarthy says she's been advertising her piñatas on the neighborhood-based social media website Nextdoor and via flyers on her busy street in the Willows neighborhood.
As a full-time nurse, her crafting time is limited, but she's been having fun with it – in contrast to what's otherwise been an awful year, she said.
"It's definitely been the worst year of my life, professionally," she said.
"My house is a piñata factory right now," she said. "It's just a great distraction. It's better than sitting and eating ice cream or any other vice."
As people get vaccinated and begin gathering with friends and loved ones again, she said, she's hoping that people use the piñatas to safely celebrate with one another.
"It's just been so much fun to think that people are going to be able to enjoy them and get their frustrations out – and celebrate the end of this, God willing."
McCarthy added that there's one person she definitely plans to send a coronavirus piñata to: Dr. Anthony Fauci, the country's leading expert on contagious diseases.
"He seems like the kind of guy who, I imagine, more than anyone, would get it on the first whack," she said.
People interested in purchasing a piñata from McCarthy can reach her at (650) 328-2083. They cost $40 to cover the cost of materials, she said.