Grace O’Connor has created a seamless plan of attack. The families whose photos she is shooting each night are sent directions ahead of time — how to pose, where to stand and when she’ll arrive — down to the minute.
Her daughter, out of school because of the coronavirus pandemic, serves at her co-pilot, entering addresses into the GPS and giving each family a heads-up text on when they will arrive.
A photographer by trade, O’Connor has witnessed her business decrease, with weddings postponed until, she hopes, August. She’s also witnessed her friends’ restaurant businesses suffer, unable to open their dining rooms and unable to cater the large gatherings expected during the Spring months. And, she’s watched as health care workers deal with an unprecedented amount of stress as the number of coronavirus cases rise in Alabama.
“I have friends who run restaurants and I’ve been thinking ‘I know they are hurting, how can I help?’ I can’t order take out every night because I’m also not really working,” O’Connor recalled thinking as businesses were forced to close their doors.
And, “Everyone is saying how it’s a little bit crazy right now in health care and everyone is scared right now about catching the COVID-19 and these people have no choice, they have to go in,” she said of hospital employees.
She wanted to give each a little bit of a thank you. The solution: Porch Portraits.
The $25 charge isn’t quite the revenue she usually generates for capturing the moments special to her clients, but it’s been enough to attract the attention of 200 families who want their photos taken from afar.
“We are very blessed. My husband still works,” she said about her decision to dedicate so much of her time to contribute to others. “I don’t need the money like the other people need the money.”
When she made a Facebook post soliciting clients, she didn’t expect such a great response.
“I was super shocked,” O’Connor said, especially because the majority of the responses came from people she didn’t know.
“I’ve got to meet a lot of really great new people,” she said.
Once she’s through her schedule, those people will have allowed O’Connor to raise $10,000 to put back into local restaurants through gift cards she’s given to health care workers. She’s also used a portion of the funds to support the Montgomery Area Food Bank, recognizing more families are in need as unemployment numbers hit all-time highs.
“When she dropped off the gift cards and I saw how many there were and I was just blown away,” Baptist Health Systems Kadie Agnew said. The cards are still being handed out to employees who are recognized for going above and beyond.
The communications and marketing manager, Agnew said, “The entire community has been tremendous in the outpouring of support. It’s kept our team members going in a very difficult time.”
O’Connor’s ministry, capitalizing on skills she already has, she added, “is very creative and unique.”
The first round of money went to support seven local businesses: Chappy’s (where O’Connor and her husband have a standing every-other Friday morning date); Jim -N- Nick’s, Little Donkey, Prevail Union, Midtown Pizza Kitchen; Tomatino’s and El Taco Shop.
Plus, a $200 donation went to the local food bank. Once she completes the rest of the sessions, the plan is to purchase more gift cards from the same restaurants to drop off to Jackson, and make a $1,000 donation to the food bank.
“Its been one of the toughest things I’ve ever had to deal with in my business,” David Gadilhe, owner of Jim -N- Nick’s and Little Donkey, said about the coronavirus pandemic. O’Connor has been in his family’s photographer for more than a decade, taking his children’s newborn pictures.
“What she does with her photography, she captures great moments for families. I really do appreciate being able to look back on the years of my children growing up,” he said.
Using that skill in a way that helps him and his employees through this tough time is something he’s very thankful for, but it’s just the sort of thing that O’Connor does, he said.
“I’ve known Grace for a while and she’s just a very giving person. She always seems to be happy and upbeat and a caring person,” Gadilhe said. “That’s really just what’s driving her, to do good for her community and spread some love.”
The Montgomery Advertiser is telling the stories of everyday people doing their part to make these trying times a little easier. If you would like to nominate someone for recognition, email Montgomery Advertiser reporter Krista Johnson at email@example.com.
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