SWEETWATER COUNTY — Family members pose together and smile from their porch — some dressed up, some in pajamas. These Front Porch Project photos have spread across the internet and the country over the past few months, becoming one way people made it through the strictest periods of social distancing regulations due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Here in Sweetwater County, a few local photographers went a step further (while staying at a safe distance, of course) by banding together to use the Front Porch Project as a way to give back to the community.
Kristen Taylor, from Moments by Taylor Photography, and Jeanna Young, with Jeanna Young Photography, both loved the idea of the Front Porch Project and saw an opportunity to use it to help out local nonprofit organizations.
The Front Porch Project, more commonly referred to on social media as the #frontporchproject, started to spread in popularity towards the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic — right around the time when many states were issuing shelter-in-place and safer-at-home orders.
“The idea of the #frontporchproject came from a photographer in a professional photographers group that spans across the country,” Kristen explained.
The idea was simple — take pictures of families on their front porch while they isolate together during the coroanvirus pandemic. Photographers everywhere, whose normal sessions and contract jobs had been canceled, took up the challenge. Many professional photographers began to do front porch sessions as the only available option for keeping their business afloat. Others who had the ability to do so used the Front Porch Project as a fundraising opportunity, including Kristen and Jeanna.
“Both Jeanna and myself had to cancel all of our professional photography sessions due to COVID-19,” Kristen said. “But still needing creative outlets and wanting to help the community, #frontporchproject was an absolute must!”
“As soon as I saw this idea I knew I had to participate and help in our community!” Jeanna said. “As COVID-19 quarantine was announced we all started down an unknown path of what the future held. Some days everything was great, some there was confusion, the next day may have included a few tears. Being a local photographer in Green River the past 10 years, three of my largest jobs had just been canceled for the year. Photography and serving the families in Sweetwater County has brought me so much joy, and I knew I had to use my talents and time being productive so I could work through and process the days ahead.
“I network online with many professional photographers from around the world, and they got busy brainstorming how we could work from home and still pay the bills,” Jeanna explained. “I have been very blessed to be able to have all my equipment paid off and I am an on-location photographer,” which means she travels and takes her photography equipment wherever it is needed.
“So when I saw a photographer in our group recommend the idea for a front porch project and to use it to raise funds for a needed organization — I knew right away that is what I wanted to do.”
And with the idea of giving the proceeds from the Front Porch Project to an organization in need, Jeanna knew exactly where she wanted the money to go.
“The Food Bank of Sweetwater County came into my mind with all the talk of toilet paper and food flying off store shelves,” she said. “I knew there would be people who didn’t have savings to buy more than one to three days worth of food, that many would be just like me and without work for a while, and I knew I could help!”
When Jeanna reached out on social media to see if people were interested, she “had a full list of participants by the next day.” Since there were starting to be rumors of a potential stay-at-home order, Jeanna, who lives in Green River, decided to hold off on the people in Rock Springs who showed interest, explaining: “I didn’t want to promise them I could make it over if such an order happened.”
But as she began doing front porch sessions in Green River and the donations started going to the Food Bank, even more people started reaching out and expressing interest, and a waiting list started to form.
That’s when Kristen reached out to Jeanna to say that she would love to team up on the #frontporchproject and help cover Rock Springs.
Jeanna was excited: “Excited that the project was so well received by the public, but also that a local photographer friend would reach out and want to link arms and help. This was amazing — more people we were able to serve and more money we were able to help raise for a wonderful cause.”
With Jeanna doing sessions in Green River and Kristen doing sessions in Rock Springs, they spent several days taking photos of families on their porches.
“We didn’t have any requirements for attire for these portraits — the variety was fabulous,” Kristen said. “Some folks commemorated the occasion and were photographed with their toilet paper, Lysol spray, masks and gloves — some people wore their quarantine outfits (pajamas) and some got really dressed up as it was something to look forward to! It was so nice to see smiling faces in the community!”
The photographers also practiced careful social distancing precautions while taking the photos in order to keep everyone safe. All photos “were taken from at least a sidewalk distance and with a zoom lens,” Kristen explained, and “digital edited images were released for the families.”
All donations were also kept digital as a precaution. When deciding on the Food Bank as the recipient of the funds, Jeanna found out that the Food Bank of Sweetwater County has a donation button on the website, so all the funds went directly to the Food Bank.
“We advertised on our facebook pages and solely asked for donations,” Kristen said. “However, if someone couldn’t afford to spare any donations during this trying time, that didn’t stop us from taking their portraits. We just wanted to spread some light in the community and see smiling faces.”
After a few days of taking Front Porch Project photos for whoever wanted them and encouraging everyone who could to donate directly to the Food Bank, Jeanna and Kristen together raised $1,150.
“100% of profit was donated,” Kristen said, which “equaled 4,400 meals to Sweetwater County residents.”
Because of the success of their #frontporchproject sessions and continued interest among community members, Jeanna and Kristen decided to do a second round. This time, all the proceeds would go to the safe house through the YWCA of Sweetwater County.
As word got around and interest continued to grow, other local photographers pitched in to help. Chelsea Egbert, Charlene Koritnik and Kaylee Hughes all joined in to take front porch photos and encourage participants to donate to the YWCA.
The second round of the Front Porch Project was even more successful than the first.
“Thanks to all of these professional photographers and our community members, we were able to raise $1,465 for the organization,” Kayla Manniko, development director of the YWCA of Sweetwater County, said in a statement. “The funds raised will help YWCA purchase microwaves, mini fridges for the Shelter in order to have a contained quarantine area for clients who come from out of state. The funds will also help YWCA purchase appropriate thermometers that will be to allow for the safe and gradual opening of the childcare program.”
Now, as Wyoming is beginning to reopen, families no longer have to spend the majority of their time at home. Of course, the time people spent self-isolating due to the COVID-19 pandemic won’t soon be forgotten, but the families who participated in the #frontporchproject will always have a special reminder of how they made the best of that time. And for those who were able to donate, they will have a reminder that they did what they could to help support others in need.
As for Jeanna and Kristen, they will always have the joy of remembering the lives they were able to reach and the community they were able to help.
“People were so happy and excited with their experience,” Jeanna said. “It brought laughter and smiles to not only my heart, but also to the many families I talked to from the curb while they remained on their front porch or lawn.
“I am grateful to live in this wonderful community and work with the people I do!” she added.
“We hope that brought a little bit of light to our community during these darker times,” Kristen said. “Let’s smile anyway!”