On Sunday, March 22nd, I drove down and back to Boston from my parents’ house in one day. As the global pandemic took hold, I realized that I was vastly underprepared for my new normal with my “roommates” in Saint Albans and headed to Charlestown to grab some things. When I initially retreated to Vermont on Thursday, March 12th, I knew the outlook wasn’t positive, especially since the NBA had paused their season by that point, but I was honestly hoping that I wouldn’t be in Vermont for months. Not that I don’t like being here. Rather, I hoped our lives wouldn’t be drastically changed. Boy, was I wrong.
On that drive, I was afforded the time to think. While I have plenty of business-related work to keep my normally working-from-home self busy for several weeks, I felt compelled to do something. Watching the news was heartbreaking and knowing several of my friends and clients in the healthcare field are battling this pandemic on the frontlines caused me to act.
As the reality of the pandemic settled in, local restaurants posted to social media expressing their desires to keep their doors open but were unsure of how they would get by financially. I could empathize with these other small businesses as I feared every time I opened my email that it would be another cancellation or postponement of a shoot or wedding. When I took the leap of faith to leave teaching and go full-time with my photography business, I (like everyone else) did not predict a global pandemic would derail all of my plans and ability to make a living. This new reality has forced businesses of all types to get creative, including myself and local restaurant owners.
Enter the Front Steps Photo Project. This wasn’t a novel idea. It originated not too far from Boston in Newton, Massachusetts and was featured on CNN and other national news outlets. Through simple pictures of individuals, couples, and families on their front steps, people were able to stay apart but feel connected through the images. The photo project operates on a donation basis. Photographers snap the photos from a safe distance (I used my 70-200 mm lens to play it extra safe) and participants donate to a charitable cause in return.
I took to my Instagram story and presented the project idea to my followers:
It felt like a win/win/win. The photos would bring smiles to my clients’ faces, the gift card purchases would help out fellow business owners during this challenging time, and the nurses would be given an opportunity to grab a delicious takeout meal after a long shift or save it for a dinner out after this nightmare is over.
Fast forward a few days, and I was blown away by the response to this project. Not only did local people want their photo snapped, but I also had others DM me saying they loved this idea and wanted to donate. I shamelessly posted my Venmo handle to my IG story about twenty times the week leading up to the photo day, and I started receiving donations from all over the US. Childhood friends, college teammates, former colleagues, and past and future clients started appearing in my Venmo feed. People in California, Georgia, Illinois, New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts, and others wanted to donate without receiving a photo in return. I quickly learned that many of us felt the same way. We wanted to do something to help but weren’t sure how. This project became a tangible way to get involved and help real people in real-time.
I mapped out my thirty-eight photo stops (looking back, I should have outsourced that to a teacher to assign to a middle schooler as a “school project” – it took forever to piece together the route!), I recruited the driving skills of my mother and my favorite fireman, who knows all the local addresses, and I headed out for a full day of snapping front step photos.
Total amount raised: $4,100! That money went towards eighty-two $50 gift cards purchased between Jeff’s Maine Seafood, Twiggs American Gastropub, Pie in the Sky, Mill River Brewing BBQ & Smokehouse, and The Farmhouse Group.
The Farmhouse Group, which includes some awesome Burlington-area restaurants including El Cortijo, The Farmhouse Tap and Grill, Pascolo Ristorante, and Guild Tavern, is giving 100% of gift card sales to their employees during this crisis, which motivated me to purchase from them. Their owner, Jed Davis, told me, “our employees sure could use some love as we push through these unprecedented times. 100% of the proceeds will go to our employee assistance program. You get to use the gift card at one of our joints when we reopen.”
To bring this project across the finish line, I reached out to JoAnn Manahan at the Northwestern Medical Center in Saint Albans and Jen Gratton at the UVM Medical Center in Burlington to help me distribute the gift cards to the nurses. Yesterday, Jen delivered the bag of gift cards to the nurse manager of UVMMC’s seven COVID units. While I wish I could provide a gift card to every nurse on their staff, that wasn’t possible, so they’re going to raffle them off or give them to staff with high needs or those who have gone above and beyond. At NMC, a similar distribution is taking place.
Thank you to everyone who participated in the photos or who donated from afar. This project gave me a purpose, brought a smile to my face and to so many others, and helped me feel connected to so many people during this time of isolation. I’m not one to get emotional but watching the slideshow of images gave me all the feels. Take a look if you haven’t done so already. I’m confident it will bring a smile to your face, too.
After sharing some of the #thefrontstepsproject images on Instagram and Facebook, I received a handful of inquiries asking if I was going to do another round of photos. At this time, I’m honoring the governor’s stay-at-home order for non-essential businesses and do not have plans for more. That being said, stay tuned to my social media pages and email newsletter for updates.
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