Dr. Desmond Ponder, a recent graduate of the Ross University School of Medicine, poses with his family in Oak Park. | Photo by Corey Kessler

What started as a hobby, taking photos at sporting events, has turned into a full-fledged organized operation, the Photos for Food Project, which now includes 140 families, and all proceeds going to help stop hunger. 

Cory Kessler of River Forest has been taking photos for fun since 2012, shooting at local sporting events, and dance recitals, sharing the pictures with the families, bringing joy and getting a bottle of wine and a thank you now and then. By 2015, wanting to do some good, and perhaps not needing any more wine, he began asking for donations to Beyond Hunger, which provides food and more to those in need. He really stepped up these efforts the past two years. In 2019 he raised enough to feed four families for a year, Kessler said.

And then a worldwide pandemic struck. 

For someone who attended as many at 11 T-ball games in one week last summer, quarantine is quite a change. 

“Everything was so new, so scary, so apocalyptic, like the world was ending,” Kessler said.

But another photographer, Steve Scheuring, who Kessler met as a fellow photo volunteer with the Oak Park and River Forest Marching Band, saw opportunity. Scheuring, a local Realtor, had more time on his hands and already expressed interest in family photography, Kessler said. And so, they began a campaign to capture images of families at home during quarantine, the Front Porch Project. 

April 4 was the first Saturday they went out. The two each spent four hours total, approximately 10 minutes with each family before zipping to the next appointment. Families are asked to donate to a specific fund set up by Beyond Hunger. Photos for Food asks for a minimum of $35, but Kessler said the average donation is $80. Families receive 10 or more images from the sittings. They range from serious to silly, cuddly to creative, and those posing give input on what they are interested in from the start.  

“People say they haven’t had family pictures done in forever, let alone at their house,” said Kessler. 

He likes to think of the funds raised in terms of meals — each dollar buys three meals. Since Kessler began, $10,000 has been raised — 30,000 meals. Most of that has been raised since COVID-19 entered the scene, $9,300, or 27,900 meals. 

Kessler said he has heard a coach explain to his team about the food pantry and, from those he provided photos to, that it has introduced them to Beyond Hunger, which makes him feel like a “hunger advocate.” 

A similar set up, Front Steps Project, started in mid-March in Massachusetts. It also has local volunteer photographers take family photos at homes while donations are given to nonprofits. The concept has spread worldwide. Front Steps Project is publishing a book and Kessler said his team’s images will be included.

Now, Kessler hopes to raise more for Beyond Hunger by taking graduation photos. Another photographer has joined the team, Steve Beck, also a Marching Huskie parent. All three men have daughters graduating from Oak Park and River Forest High School this year; Beck has twins. 

It takes more time to set up graduation photos, so there are 15- and 30-minute time slots offered, available for $50 and $100 donations, respectively. Graduates already photographed range from 5th grade through medical school. 

Images can be viewed and photo appointments can be set up on Instagram @photosforfoodproject or by email at kes_cor@yahoo.com.

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