Cottage Industrious: Stepping up and staying busy while sheltered in place 

Posted on May 14, 2020 by Sonoma Valley Sun

By Leslie Nicholson

The economic “sting” of the pandemic and shelter-in-place rules has prompted a number of creative people in our community to focus their talents on crafting and selling homemade items. These comforting and practical Items are filling the income gap left when many businesses shuttered, while also giving Sonomans the chance to support friends and neighbors.

The influence of social media messaging gives “cottage” businesses the marketing tools they need to easily promote their products without having to be face-to-face, especially important in this time of social distancing. But the ultimate draw is the chance to bring something into our homes that is homemade and provides a sense of well-being at a time when we need it most.

The most sought-after items have been face masks.

Lily and Gwen Morgan

Courtney Morgan, a local mother of four, started to create face masks for her immediate family out of concern for her older son, who is immune-compromised. “This wasn’t intended to be a business. During spring break in March, I started modifying mask patterns I saw to improve the fit over the face and nose. We knew that protecting our family from getting sick was vital,” she says. Her own job was put on hold when her company put a freeze on all client accounts.

Morgan has also involved her two teenage daughters, Lily, 18 and Gwen, 15, which she said has been a fun part of the process. Together they have made and sold more than 100 masks.

“I took a pattern that a nurse had posted and came up with a modified design that is useful and comfortable for medical personnel on long shifts,” she explains. “The mask tucks around the face and there are no gaps or openings. This design also prevents anyone wearing it from having to touch their face and readjust the mask.”

Morgan started by donating her masks to nurses and frontline workers and to date has donated over 200 masks. Her masks are even being used by some New York City police officers! People found out about her masks and inquired about being able to purchase them for their families and friends. While she will continue to donate masks to healthcare and frontline workers, she is also selling them for $20 each and can be reached by email at [email protected].

“It is great to see people think “outside of the box” to come up with ways to support people during the pandemic. My need for supplies has in turn been a way to support Broadway Quilts, another local business, and I don’t have to leave town, which is a plus,” adds Morgan.

Kasey Kuchinski

Using her design talents and a box of fabric she had stored, Kasey Kuchinski also jumped into making face coverings as a way to use her time at home. Kuchinski, an illustrator and former owner of a children’s clothing design business, and her husband, a chef, were suddenly both unemployed as a result of the shut down. She has also been helping out her sister, a medical professional at Kaiser labs, by offering to watch her niece Adelyn, 10, whom she involves in some of the tasks needed for making the face masks.

“I got some leftover fabric from a box in my shed and started working. I decided to put them out at the end of my driveway and set up an honor system for people to purchase them. It has worked well. People buy them up and I keep bringing out more every day to sell. The people in Sonoma are always good to small businesses and I appreciate the support so many people are getting while they are working to make much needed income during the shut-down,” she says appreciatively.

Kuchinski offers three sizes: small sizes for kids 2-6 years old, youth size, and adult sizes. The masks are for sale at 721 First Street West. She sells her face masks for $20 each. She can also be reached at [email protected].

Jim Valavanis and his son Greg

With Victory Gardens giving people something fun and beneficial to do with their families, gardening supplies are in high demand. This has been a perfect match for Jim Valavanis, who is busy filling orders for planter boxes that he builds. Valavanis, owner of Handy Jim Dandy’s Handyman Services, found himself with extra time when the shutdown brought his business to an abrupt halt.

“I figured that now was a good time to build the garden I had always dreamed of for our backyard. I built a raised garden bed and Jill, my wife, suggested that I post a photo online in case anyone else would be interested in purchasing one,” he says. “Now here I am just having filled about 60 orders for garden planter boxes and I am getting ready to build 10 more boxes for new orders. I am having fun doing this and starting to work on other design ideas I have for planter boxes. We will see how it goes.”

Starting with his first box, built from scrap lumber he had, Valavanis and his family have worked together and are seeing success with their new endeavor. Son Greg, 19, when he is not working at his other job, helps with construction and deliveries.

“With all of us working on this, we are able to get orders to people within about five days,” he says. Valavanis sees this as something he will do after his regular business is back up and running again. If you would like to contact him about planter boxes, he can be reached at 707-494-9982.

While a lot of people have caught the “baking bug” with SIP, some veteran bakers are spending their days filling orders for local customers.

Heidi Cullen

Bringing her talent for baking to many Sonomans during the past six weeks is Heidi Cullen, a single mom of two teenage daughters, Lindsey, 17, and Natalie, 13. Cullen is also feeling the pinch of the shutdown with her work as a fitness and yoga instructor on hold until the SIP is lifted and her classes can resume. Cullen is putting her 20 years of experience of owning and managing a high production bakery in Marin to use with baking cakes, pies, cookies, and tortas for sale – many of which originate from well-loved family recipes. Heidi’s Biscotti is something she is also known for and sells by the bag. She is also offering pizza dough to customers when time allows.

“I had to get creative and I am busy taking orders for the baked goods people are requesting. I also have things that my girls and I bake daily. I try to post photos on Facebook to give people an idea of what I have available,” she says.

“Baking is easy for me, but years of working in the bakery took a toll on my wrists and hands. What is exciting and fun to see is that my girls are getting more skilled and becoming really good at taking on a lot of the baking tasks” says Cullen proudly.

“I believe that now is the time for people to really work on things they are passionate about. This time has inspired me to find new ways to share my love of cooking and baking with people. I may even consider offering classes at some point,” she adds. “I think that after the pandemic shut-down is over, I will continue to offer baked goods for sale. This time at home has reignited something I haven’t done for people outside of my family for a number of years. I am excited to see how this evolves.”

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