The Rewards of Giving Back

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When Small Businesses Come Together
by
Chris Fritchie

One of our studio specialties is a Santa promotion each year where we photograph families in an elaborate studio setting. Over the years, it has become a very customized feature designed to tell each family’s story with creative images of a special occasion that stand the test of time. The style of the imagery is inspired by great artists like Norman Rockwell and the popularity of each year’s promotion has been profitable to us. But it wasn’t until 2018 that we fully realized the power of these images and the enormous responsibility each of us has as a professional photographer.

It was during that year that I received a simple phone call from a client named Mary. Because of her family’s unique situation, we provided a free Santa session the previous year. She had a simple favor to ask. “Could you do for Ricky and her family what you did for my family last year?” There was no hesitation on my part. I simply said, “Yes.”

Mary’s story was one that nobody would envy. She and her husband, Matt, had three small children and Matt was facing a life-threatening illness. This could be his last Christmas as a family, so we wanted it to be special. A local TV station quickly picked up on the story, filming segments of the session itself. Viewers were moved by the power of that presentation and were inspired to reach out to others less fortunate. Now Mary’s friend, Ricky, faced the reality that this could very well be her last Christmas to share with her husband and five small children. To fully grasp what this family was facing, scan this QR code to view the TV news segment of Ricky’s family session.

After a session, we don’t pressure our families to order. We simply edit a handful of images and ask them to let us know whenever they are ready to order an album, wall portrait, or prints. On December 23rd, I received a phone call from Ricky’s husband. It was the first time we had spoken since the session and I remember his words like they were spoken yesterday. “Ricky passed away this morning.”

Recalling Ricky’s own words the day of the session brought chills to me. She had been correct. This would be her last Christmas with her husband and five children. He had one request, could he get a print in time to display at her service the next day.

Keep in mind, this was the day before Christmas Eve and we already had clients screaming at us about the status of their own orders and every lab in the country was working to fill orders in time for Christmas. But what happened next was amazing. After telling my story to my lab, they told me they would “stop the presses” and move my order to the front of the line and I would have the 20×30 print by 10:00 am the next morning.

Next, I called my friend Bradley at Real Framing and explained the situation. He instructed me to have the lab send the print to him and he would have it framed and ready to pick up by 10:30 that same morning. I picked it up and made it back to my studio by 11:30 the day of the service. Ricky’s husband arrived at noon expecting an 8×10. When I shared with him what my lab and framer had done, we both shed a tear. It was at that very moment that I realized how much power we have as professional photographers and the enormous obligation we have to help others in need.

With this in mind, Lori and I decided to figure out a way to expand our Santa promotion and to do what we could for others with similar needs and still make a living with our studio. Then COVID made that goal even more complicated. We actually didn’t do any charity sessions in 2020 because families with members who were sick just didn’t want to get out. We understood that. We even lost one client that year due to COVID. So, moving forward, the question became, “How can we do more for less?”

After a great deal of thought, came up with an idea. What if we could get some other local businesses to help us give something back to our community? What if we could get other local businesses to help upgrade our Santa set? It would save us some money so we could be in a better position to help others.

The idea was to get some media coverage that focused on how local businesses come together to provide a little joy during the holiday season to more families who simply weren’t having a good year. Our goal was a modest one… to provide this free service to five families. To accomplish this, we would tell our story to a few local businesses and see if they’d help us set an example for other local businesses. I reached out to the reporter who had featured our studio previously and he assured us they’d love to share our new story.

We got started in August and decided what we wanted our new studio set to look like. Once we had the theme for the year, it was a fairly simple process to figure out what we needed in the way of materials. The idea was to create a setting where kids would be visiting Santa’s home and workshop and decided to give it a vintage look as well.

The first objective was to find the material for the walls. We knew it needed to have a log cabin look so I began searching the internet for a product that would work. The problem is there isn’t much of a demand for that type of material in the Dallas – Fort Worth area. But I found a product that would work perfectly and I called the manufacturer in Oklahoma, about three hours from us. They provided us with the names of two local companies where we could obtain the materials. One of them was a person I’d known for over 10 years.

The project was off to a great start. I stopped by their office and simply told them what we wanted to do. But I also showed them Ricky’s video from the news cast. Frisco Wholesale Lumber and Paul Wunderlik agreed to acquire the log cabin material for us at no charge! It was something I had not expected.

Next on the list was the fireplace. I’d built several of them over the years, but I really wanted something special, something really cool. A friend in our town owns Cre8 Stone, a company with an amazing process for creating rock on any surface. First, they spray a material over a structure and their artist shapes the pliable material into the type of stone we want and hand-paints it. Again, I shared Ricky’s video with them and offered to provide a complimentary session for his own family. They offered to build us a new fireplace each year if we continued to do this.

The next item on the list was to find someone to actually build the studio set. A great handyman named Richard had done work for me in the past. After explaining what we were doing and sharing Ricky’s video, he was all in as well.

The last thing we needed was the right furniture. After scouring the internet, we found what we wanted on the other side of town at Runyons Fine Furniture. We wanted a “lodge” feel and knew the furniture needed to be nice. After visiting the store, met with the manager and, in a few days, we had our answer, “Come pick out what you need and we’d be honored to be a part of your project.”

It was a lot of work but it all came together. The story of how it all materialized was shared in several social media posts. We did fall short of our goal of providing this to five families after one had to cancel at the last minute. The situations of a couple of the families was so rough that we could not share them. We had one family of four who had been in a shelter due to domestic violence.

The Watson family, shown in the title image of this article, had a situation similar to Ricky’s family. Stephanie Watson is suffering from the same type of cancer as Ricky. Their session had to be delayed due to a recent surgery. Her husband Mark, a local Deputy Sheriff, helped arrange everything and we had an amazing time with them and their three children. The Matheny family is in a very similar situation as Ricky and Mary. Gabriel is suffering the same type of cancer. You can watch the video of their story here. The other family we photographed chose to keep their story private.

So why share this? The world is filled with people in need and we have an obligation to our fellow man to do what we can with the talents we’ve been given to provide some comfort and joy in their time of need. Throughout this entire process, we simply wanted to set an example to other small businesses as to how we could all come together and make a difference. It is my hope that some who read this will realize that they too can make a difference.

Chris Fritchie is a photographer and Texas School Instructor from McKinney, Texas. He has over 15 years experience shooting editorial with over 150 magazine covers and thousands of published images. He and his lovely wife, Lori, will be teaching a class on “The Complete Kids Program… The Magic of Santa and More” at the 2022 Texas School of Professional Photography. Learn more about Chris and his work at: www.ChrisFritchieStudios.com.