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How two friends raised millions—from front steps around the world

Here’s how the Front Steps Project grew from a charitable initiative in Needham, Mass. to a global fundraiser.

The Front Steps Project was created to bring a community together at a time when it was safest to stay apart.

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Perhaps you have seen the #thefrontstepsproject hashtag on your social media feeds, accompanying photos of friends or family on their front steps. Sometimes the pictures are sweet and playful. Other times they are wildly creative, like the families in costumes, couples announcing babies on the way, or light-hearted pleas on handmade signs (send more wine!).

Kristen Collins, a content creator and small business media expert in Needham, Mass., had the idea on March 12 after the first COVID-19 case was reported in her area. The concept was simple. Photograph Needham residents on their front steps, from a safe distance, and encourage participants to donate $50 to a local food pantry in lieu of paying the photographer.

For the idea to work, she needed residents willing to participate and a photographer willing to donate his or her talent to the cause. Collins reached out to friend and long-time collaborator Cara Soulia, a Boston-area family photographer.

“My work photographing families and local preschools came to a halt overnight,” says Soulia. “When Kristen told me her idea, I knew it would be a great way to document history and also support our community. There was no question in my mind it was how I wanted to spend the next few weeks.”

They started on March 17, with Collins scheduling the mini-sessions and Soulia taking the pictures. The Front Steps Project had officially begun.

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“Our intention was to keep busy, spread some smiles, and raise some money for the local food pantry. We posted the first image on March 18 and our inboxes overflowed with interest. We never, ever thought we’d be managing global interest six months later,” Collins explains.

Within 24 hours, over 100 residents asked to participate. Photographers Topher Cox, Caitrin Dunphy, and Kate King joined the Needham team and the crew spent the following weeks taking pictures. Ultimately, they connected with close to 800 families and raised over $50,000.

But that was just the beginning, says Soulia. Within days, photographers from around the country and in Canada began their own Front Steps Projects. To date, thousands have participated across 50 states and 12 countries to raise more than $3.35M worldwide for local food banks, frontline workers, healthcare providers, animal shelters, and more. A photo book of images from around the world is now available and already in high demand.

“The Front Steps Project truly is a little idea that went viral,” Collins says. “Witnessing the emotional connections made within towns and cities around the globe reminds us that, no matter how different we are, the soul of a community is defined by how it comes together in a time of crisis. While we may be the originators of the idea, the joy it created belongs to many, and that’s what means the most to us.” 

The Front Steps Project is still taking place in some communities—with holiday themes, of course.

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This content was produced by Boston Globe Media's BG BrandLab. The news and editorial departments of The Boston Globe had no role in its production or display.

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