Photographer captures faces of Amherst families living amid a pandemic in ‘Front Steps Project’

The project has been raising funds for the Amherst Survival Center

Courtesy+of+Isabella+Dellolio

Courtesy of Isabella Dellolio

By Saliha Bayrak, Collegian Correspondent

The COVID-19 pandemic has left many putting their lives on hold. However, there are many people that have been continuing to help one another during this pandemic despite the numerous restrictions, including Amherst photographer Isabella Dellolio.

For the last few weeks, the portrait and family photographer has been photographing families in Amherst on the front steps of their homes. Dellolio strictly follows social distancing guidelines, ensuring that the sessions only last around five minutes, she remains at least 15 feet away from the families and avoids any physical contact. The family portraits are offered for free, and in return the families are asked to donate to a GoFundMe benefitting the Amherst Survival Center.

The “Front Steps Project” began in Needham, Massachusetts with photographers Cara Soulia and Kristen Collins. After the first photo was taken on March 17, hundreds of families requested to be a part of the project within days. Since then, Soulia and Collins have not only had photographers join them within their own town, but have had over 300 photographers replicate the project within their own communities, including Dellolio. They have also raised around $25,000 for the Needham Community Council.

Collins said that this project has allowed her and the others involved to see “the happy faces of a town that is trying to stay resilient and positive in an upsetting time.”  According to Collins, it is also a way to “say thank you” to frontline workers, healthcare workers and teachers. Dellolio has seen similar results while photographing families throughout Amherst.

“I witness resilience, creativity and really trying to make the most out of the situation,” Dellolio said.  The five-minute sessions can be a moment for the families to incorporate something different in their daily lives without leaving their front steps.

Dellolio’s photos show the multiple generations, lively families and colorful personalities of Amherst living amid a historical moment. Nearly all of them are embracing one another and have smiles on their faces, in spite of the many changes and worries burdening families across the town and nation. The photos capture an unprecedented and unforgettable time in which many families hold each other a little tighter.

“I love the idea that they will look at this photo and remember forever when it was taken,” said Dellolio.

So far, Dellolio has raised nearly $5,000 through the project for the Amherst Survival Center.

The COVID-19 pandemic has indiscriminately affected everyone in various ways. However, it has more severely impacted the lives of those already living through financial difficulties and other vulnerable populations. The Amherst Survival Center aims to provide food, clothing and other resources to the Amherst community at all times, but they have recently become an especially important resource for those most deeply impacted by the virus, providing free hot lunch and groceries Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Lev Ben-Ezra, the executive director at the Amherst Survival Center, said that the Center desperately needs financial contributions now more than ever, as they have had significantly increased costs. She stated that during the time that they distribute their free lunch, they have been seeing “150 people most days, which is a 50 percent increase from what we were seeing for lunch before the crisis.”

She also said that the Amherst survival center is “very appreciative of the funds raised” by Dellolio through the project, as it is showing that “many people are caring for their community by staying home” while simultaneously helping to fight food insecurity, already an issue within the Amherst region which is “amplified with so many low wage workers out of work.”

Ben-Ezra encouraged others to follow suit and find ways to raise funds for the center in a safe way.

People can get more information about the project and schedule their own session at: https://www.isabelladellolio.com/the-front-steps-project

People can donate to the Amherst Survival Center here: https://amherstsurvival.org/donate-info/individual-giving/

 Saliha Bayrak can be reached at [email protected]