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Before it was halted, the Front Steps Project brought smiles and supported charities

Photographers made photos of families on their front steps to document this strange time in U.S. history.

TAMPA — Jessica Eckley joked that when she looks back on her family’s time in self-isolation to help stop the spread of the coronavirus, she’ll recall her daughter hectically homeschooling and her banker husband frantically on the phone with clients as she stressfully ran her marketing firm.

Now, she has a photograph to commemorate the memory.

In the picture, on their front steps in Tampa, Eckley is holding a glass of wine and a laptop, her husband has a phone to his ear and their daughter reads an upside-down science book.

The photograph was snapped as part of the nationwide grassroots Front Steps Project meant to document this strange time in U.S. history, bring the community together virtually and support charities.

Shawn, Carsyn and Jessica Eckley took part in the nationwide Front Steps Project that photographed families living in self-isolation to help stop the spread of the coronavirus.
Shawn, Carsyn and Jessica Eckley took part in the nationwide Front Steps Project that photographed families living in self-isolation to help stop the spread of the coronavirus. [ Courtesy of Pezz Photo ]

Last week, the Massachusetts photographers who started the Front Steps Project asked that it be suspended as part of the safer-at-home orders issued in most states.

Tampa Bay area photographers are abiding, but said the movement left a mark before it ceased.

“This is a stressful time,” said Amy Pezzicara, the Tampa photographer who documented the Eckley family. “Hopefully this brought some fun to the families.”

At a family’s request, a participating photographer stopped by their home.

The family would gather on their front step and hold a sign displaying something funny or uplifting as the photographer snapped the picture while safely social distancing.

“I’d stay 15 to 20 feet away,” Pezzicara said. “I’d be in the street or on the sidewalk.”

The photograph was then shared on social media.

In lieu of payment, the family donated to a charity of the photographer’s choice. Pezzicara suggested Feeding Tampa Bay or the Heart Gallery of Tampa.

Shannon Hannon Oliviero, a spokeswoman for Feeding Tampa Bay, said the food rescue and distribution organization received nearly $600 through the local Front Steps Project and it will likely be more once all donations are tallied.

“We have been watching this beautiful effort unfold, and appreciate the photographers and families willing to stand with Feeding Tampa Bay,” Oliviero said.

The Front Steps Project was started on St. Patrick’s Day in a Boston suburb by Cara Soulia and Kristen Collins “to bring us together virtually when we might feel isolated," according to their website.

“We aim to highlight the faces of our community during a time when we might not see them in passing at the grocery store, coffee shop, on the train or at the gym,” it continues.

Word of the project spread through social media and national news coverage.

Tampa photographer Andi Diamond learned of it through the latter.

“Hopefully this helps us look back at something positive we gained from it — family time," said Diamond, who raised money for Feeding Tampa Bay and the American Red Cross.

Tampa photographer Carrie Wilds, who supported Metropolitan Ministries, said families looking for the bright side in this tragic time see this as a rare opportunity when they are all together for a picture.

“Usually people have a hard time coordinating a family portrait,” she said. “Family schedules are hectic. Now, everyone is together and I think they appreciate that.”

Shawn, Carsyn and Jessica Eckley took part in the nationwide Front Step Project that photographed families living in self-isolation to help stop the spread of the coronavirus.
Shawn, Carsyn and Jessica Eckley took part in the nationwide Front Step Project that photographed families living in self-isolation to help stop the spread of the coronavirus. [ Courtesy of Pezz Photo ]

That was true for the Eckley family, who in a second and more traditional pose held a sign that said, “Staying in is the new going out.”

“To be home with family in the midst of this gives us more of an appreciation of what we have,” Jessica Eckley said.

Only a few families put on their Sunday best, the photographers, each of whom documented dozens of families, told the Tampa Bay Times. Most families preferred to be authentic and wear what they were lounging in.

That’s why Erika Williams of Tampa chose to participate.

“I thought the pictures were interesting because it looked like real people just popped out of their houses for a moment in time,” Williams said. “It is intriguing to see real people on a real doorstep.”

The sign she held up with her husband and two sons reads, “Binging Netflix saves lives.”

What have they watched?

Night on Earth with the kids,” said Williams, who then added with a laugh, “and Tiger King, of course. I think we’ll all associate Tiger King with this time."

Ford, Travis, Erika and Reed Williams took part in the nationwide Front Steps Project that photographed families living in self-isolation to help stop the spread of the coronavirus.
Ford, Travis, Erika and Reed Williams took part in the nationwide Front Steps Project that photographed families living in self-isolation to help stop the spread of the coronavirus. [ Courtesy of Pezz Photo ]

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