Making lemonade: Photographer spurs movement to benefit community in COVID-19 crisis

A Massachusetts photographer is taking family photos to benefit a local charity.

A photographer from Needham, Massachusetts, teamed up with a friend to help her community during the COVID-19 outbreak, while also giving neighboring families a special keepsake.

Now, #TheFrontStepsProject has taken off across the world.

"All of my work, all of my income-producing work, has stopped," she told ABC News. Soulia is now working from home alongside her husband, while also homeschooling three children.

Thinking of how to make lemons into lemonade, she said she was struck with "a feeling of, 'This is really historic and I want to capture this' -- but I'm not sure how."

It was her friend and #TheFrontStepsProject co-founder Kristen Collins who had the idea to photograph families in front of their homes, from a safe distance.

The team directed any donations earned from the families to a local charity, and families would have a memento to remember this unprecedented time forever.

"Although [not profiting] may be tough, it's so worth it and I don't think we'd have the response we'd have if we charged anything," Soulia said.

Originally, she said, they thought of having people choose their own charities but ultimately decided to streamline their efforts to benefit one organization and track their progress. They settled on the Needham Community Council, which runs a food pantry, senior services and more in Soulia's community.

Over the next 10 days, the project has taken off and "taken over my life," Soulia joked. She and Collins partnered with two other local photographers, Caitrin Dunphy and Topher Cox, to keep up with the demand in her city.

The team has managed to make the process highly efficient: photographers pull up to the scheduled home and honk twice. The families are given advance notice to be ready so photographers are able to visit 20 families in two hours.

"They come out and everybody's really excited ... people are showering and getting dressed! They're so excited to see someone who's not their family," Soulia said. "I take 10 frames just to make sure I've got it," and then she's on to the next home. "It's only a couple minutes but it ends up being a lot!"

She said one family's image stood out in particular -- a mother with her three kids. Their dad, a doctor, was at work -- doing his part in the ongoing crisis.

Families are asked to donate if they can. #TheFrontStepsProject has photographed 450 families so far and raised almost $20,000 in little over a week, Soulia said.

"Right away, we saw we were on to something," Soulia said.

Other photographers began to take notice and wanted to take part, so #TheFrontStepsProject team created a short list of things to do to get the project running in any community. Soulia said there are 300 to 400 photographers who are carrying on the project in their own communities.

"We're just encouraging everyone to follow the model," she said. "The spirit of this is 100% charity and doing it for the community."

Soulia said she's received messages from photographers saying they had huge success raising money for a local food pantry, church, animal shelter and more.

Though many of the photographers involved in the project are in the U.S. and Canada, Soulia's said she's also been contacted by photographers in Australia, the U.K. and Mexico.

Soulia also said anyone, not just professional photographers, can take part in the project.

"It's more the spirit of it," she said. "This is not some artistic photo with a sun flare and motion blur -- it's not about the art, it's about capturing the moment."

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