For me, the entire coronavirus quarantine – plus some time before and after – was defined by The Front Steps Project. It consumed our time and energy for nearly 3 months. It taught us things that we never imagined – personally and professionally. Every moment of every day, it gave us hope in the midst of global uncertainty – happy faces all coming together to help others in our community. I think it will take a long time to fully absorb what happened. But I wanted to try to put it in perspective as best I can today…
Let’s give credit where credit is due… Cara Soulia and Kristen Collins from Needham, MA came up with the amazing idea for The Front Steps Project. They had the foresight to put it out there for other professional photographers to try in their own communities: take photos of families in return for donations to a local charity. It became an international movement of professional photographers.
About a week after they came up with the idea, I found it online – the Boston media had picked it up. I instantly knew I wanted to do it. But while I knew how to take the pictures, I didn’t have much of an idea of how to actually pull it off. I figured we could take photos here in The Farms and raise a few hundred dollars for charity. And that’s where my husband, Ed, comes in. You see, I’m the dreamer – I come up with a lot of neat ideas. Ed… he’s the do-er. He’s the detail, problem-solver, technology and implementation side of this. And we’ve done pretty well with it for more than 30 years together.
(Almost) more questions than answers… As we started talking about it that Sunday morning, all the questions about how to do it started to hit us… How do you get the word out to people that we’re doing this? How do you find out who wants to participate? How do you communicate with everyone participating so that they are ready outside on their front steps – and socially distant – when we show up to take the pictures? How do you manage donations to charity? How do you get from house to house in an efficient way? How do you get pictures out to people? Those are the first 6 out of dozens of questions we had to figure out. So… we did.
Let’s use what we’ve got… We were able to take a lot of the tools we have for LKN Images and leverage them to help with this project. We already had a web site and great tools to build on; we had just built an entirely new web site in January. We had online registration, so we created a new signup system for this. We had online galleries to share proofs with clients, so we created a system to distribute the free photos. Even before we consulted with our accountant, we knew that it was best if we didn’t get involved in accepting or processing donations. Fortunately, FeedNC already had an online donation system so we had all of the families participating in the project donate directly to FeedNC through their system.
New technology to the rescue… We’ve lived in The Farms for 15 years, so we pretty much know our way around. We were efficient enough here (at least we thought we were) to get the project started. But as soon as word started spreading that we were doing this, it went way beyond The Farms very fast. A dozen neighbors turned into dozens that signed up. And then hundreds. Eventually, it topped 1,000! 28115 added to 28117 and eventually we would get to 14 different ZIP codes. So, we turned to professional routing software that major delivery companies use. Over-night, we doubled the number of families we could get to each hour – just by following the most efficient route (and not trying to figure it out manually).
The Front Steps Project took off. Families were signing up almost faster than we could get to them (actually, for a while, it WAS faster than we could get to them). The photos of smiling families went viral. Donations took off… hundreds of dollars turned to thousands… and thousands turned to tens of thousands.
In a great way, this became a 7-day/week job for us. If we weren’t out taking pictures, we were at home processing and getting pictures out to families. Our accountant can’t believe the number of miles we put on the Jeep driving in April and May (but thank God for low gas prices)! I like to joke that I was a little jealous of people that were at home doing amazing work in their yards during the quarantine – but you can’t believe how many gorgeous yards we got to see!
If you are reading this, you have probably seen The Front Steps Project photos that I posted across social media. I hope you enjoyed them! But I have to tell you that it was probably even more exciting to take them than it was to view them online. Imagine being invited into someone’s front yard. As a family, they’ve been largely locked inside. But today, they are going to take showers, get dressed and spend a few minutes on their front steps smiling and laughing. Everyone was excited to come out and experience “normal” for a little while. Everyone was happy to be part of a community movement that was generating a lot of donations for a vital cause – feeding people in our town. Now imagine doing that about 800 times! That’s what Ed & I got to do from late March through May. It was incredible.
All good things… We were fortunate to get to know and work with Cara and Kristen (the project founders) and several of the larger groups around the country that were doing The Front Steps Project. We would talk about ideas and try to help each other along the way. And we also talked about where this goes. Something like The Front Steps Project can’t go on forever. We’re not all going to be locked at home forever. Everyone (including photographers) need to get back to work eventually. So we are.
What have we done here? That’s the question that prompted me to write this blog post – and it’s a big question. But, let’s start with some stats:
• More than 1,000 families signed up to be part of this
• We took over 8,000 photos
• Over $50,000 in donations raised for FeedNC
But this is much bigger than those incredible figures. Here is some context…
• In normal times, FeedNC operates and is able to feed those in-need in Mooresville for $10,000 a month. As a community movement, YOU generated the equivalent of 5 months of what FeedNC needs to operate.
• This movement became the largest source of money for FeedNC. Bigger than United Way.
• This project in Mooresville NC generated more in donations than any other group in the world doing The Front Steps Project – it even generated more than the founders. [WAY TO GO MOORESVILLE!!!]
• As a world-wide movement, The Front Steps Project accounted for over $1.5 million in donations to local charities. In just over 60 days!
But to me, here is the legacy of The Front Steps Project here in Mooresville: generosity and awareness. This community got behind this idea and you made it more successful than anywhere else in the world. The generosity of people in this area is amazing… we are so proud to have been part of bringing that together. But more than anything, there is awareness for FeedNC. About a year ago, under their new Executive Director, Lara Ingram, The Mooresville Soup Kitchen rebranded themselves to FeedNC. Their mission is broader and rebranding made sense. But it’s a lot of work to change the name of an organization (never mind a charity) and make people aware of it. Whether you participated in The Front Steps Project, followed it on social media or just heard about it because of social media & news coverage, we were able to make thousands more people aware of FeedNC. So now, when people hear about it checking out at the local grocery store, or drive by their building on Broad Street (right across from the Library), or are thinking about volunteering, FeedNC is much more top-of-mind across our community. That is a fantastic legacy.
Now what?… We are winding down The Front Steps Project. Once we crossed 1,000 families, we stopped new registrations. We’ve gotten to more than 800 families and we are trying to get to as many of the rest as possible. But we’re finding that people are getting out, moving on and not as available. In a way, it’s sad to see this project coming to an end. But more so, it’s great to see the community starting to move forward.
We’re shifting our outreach efforts toward helping local businesses. Using a lot of the lessons and successes from The Front Steps Project, we have partnered with several local small business initiatives and have launched #LKNOutFront. You can read more about it HERE. And if you are a small business owner, we encourage you to sign up today!
Even before “phase 2” took effect in NC, LKN Images had applied to the state to restart our business, and we were approved. But now that we are in phase 2, we are back at full capacity. We have taken a lot of what we learned in The Front Steps Project along with the realities of the world today and have come up with new ways of working with you – high school seniors, families, sports leagues and businesses. I hope you’ll take a look at our PACKAGES and consider LKN Images for your photography needs. If we could capture a moment on your front steps in just a few minutes, imagine what we can do in a real photo session!
Thank you just doesn’t begin to cover the incredible gratitude Ed & I have for all this community has done through The Front Steps Project. A crazy idea over a cup of coffee on a Sunday morning in March turned into something nobody could have imagined. But one smile at a time, you did this.