When Menlo Park nurse Elizabeth McCarthy received a letter from the National Institute of Health (NIH), she said she was mostly panicked. But instead of bad news, the letter told McCarthy that her COVID-19-themed piñata would become a part of the permanent collection of the NIH's Stetten Museum in Bethesda, Maryland.
McCarthy began making piñatas in the shape of the COVID-19 virus when the vaccine was first announced. She'll never forget the day she heard that the vaccine would begin rolling out in late December. McCarthy was driving as the radio announced the development and said she immediately began crying.
In 2021, McCarthy sent a piñata designed to look like the COVID-19 virus to Dr. Anthony Fauci, then chief medical adviser to the president of the United States, who McCarthy describes as her "hero." She said she assumed that Fauci would likely never see the piñata she sent to him, but hoped pummeling a physical representation of the virus would provide some catharsis.
"I hoped that he was going to take it home and smash it," McCarthy said. "Maybe with his grandkids, or him and his co-workers would take it outside and smash it, you know, just for fun."
McCarthy said that she figured it would likely never reach its destination as NIH employees could be cautious about a strange box showing up at the headquarters. However, when she received a letter from the NIH, she said she was worried, not expectant.
Instead of telling McCarthy that she was exposed to some rare virus, the letter said that Fauci had not wanted to destroy the piñata and it would instead be a part of the NIH museum's permanent collection. McCarthy had included a letter to Fauci in her package, and gave her approval to display it.
McCarthy, who works as a nurse, began making piñatas because she believed people would be having parties to celebrate the beginning of the end of the pandemic.
"I thought … Oh, my God, I should make a piñata, and have a party," McCarthy said. "And then I thought, oh my God, the world needs a piñata, the world is going to want to party."
McCarthy looked for a COVID-19 piñata online but found that the options were lacking, so she decided to make her own.
"And it just looked so damn good," McCarthy said. "I must say ... I just impressed my own self."
McCarthy began selling piñatas in March 2021 and continued for six months, but said it was never about the money or this kind of recognition. She said she wanted to bring some joy to the dreary lives of the pandemic.
"I know it brought joy to people's lives, but it brought so much joy to my life," McCarthy said. "I spent every waking moment that I wasn't at work taking care of COVID patients, at home, making COVID piñatas and it just made me so happy."