Seamstress sews masks to support her community

Small Business
Small Towns

Carlos Barcenas contributed to this blog.

Many people have struggled throughout the coronavirus pandemic. From losing jobs to losing loved ones, getting through each day has been difficult in so many ways, for so many people.

When Ana Carlota Mendez found herself between a rock and a hard place in terms of employment, she decided to start her own small business as a seamstress, something she’s been practicing since she was 7 years old.

“I learned to sew on a professional sewing machine that belonged to my mom, who had a clothing store,” she said. “I started by making doll dresses, hair pins, and once in a while, I would help with small dress alterations. I have learned not by going to school, but by doing it for so long.”

A lifetime of honing her sewing skills has helped Ana run her business, Charlotte’s Designs. And, when the pandemic started taking a toll on her neighbors in Lexington, Nebraska, Ana decided she wanted to do something to help.

Through a partnership with the Center for Rural Affairs, the seamstress had the opportunity to turn that desire into a reality. Over the course of almost 30 days, she made 1,200 masks to share with her community.

Though she used a sewing machine to make the process go more smoothly, completing the masks was no easy task, and was a labor of love for her whole family.

“My husband helped me in the cutting, and my mother-in-law would help me flip masks around, and that is how I was able to reach my goal,” she said. “It's really a family business, and we help each other and work well together, like gears in a machine.”

Through all their hard work, they made 600 masks for children and 600 for adults, with 300 each split between men and women. The masks were reversible—one side had a print design and the other was a solid color.

With assistance from Center for Rural Affairs staff, the masks were then distributed to residents in need through a local food pantry.

When asked why she would go to so much trouble for people she’d never met before, Ana shared how much the community of Lexington means to her.

“I have met so many nice people who have helped me and supported me with work, and I really like being here in this small town, very much,” she said. “It is a very family-driven town where I have found a warmth and kindness from people that I have not experienced anywhere else that I have lived in the United States.”

Since the community has given so much to her, Ana felt making the masks was the least she could do to repay the favor.

“I have seen many people close to us who have died of COVID-19, and maybe wearing a mask would have helped,” she said. “So, having the opportunity to sew them makes me feel good knowing that I am helping my community and reducing the risk. This is such a blessing that I have found a place that if I ever lack or need anything, there is a place that provides it and takes care of its community members.”

Feature photo: Ana Carlota Mendez and her family made 600 masks for children and 600 for adults to be given to their community of Lexington, Nebraska. | Photo submitted