LITTLE FALLS, NJ - It was a picture perfect moment when Lauren Verdi decided to do something to give back to the Township. The local resident wanted to find a way to help businesses, which were economically impacted this past month due to the coronavirus outbreak, as well as helping health care workers.
" I wanted to find some way to give back to our wonderful, little town by supporting our local businesses, all while acknowledging and thanking the people on the front lines who are fighting this virus," she explained.
After doing some research, Verdi came across "The Front Steps Project," which she saw posted on a friend's Facebook page that was done by Steinmetz Photography.
"It was not my original idea but I did a little research and saw that this is a project many people are doing across the country," Verdi said. "From what I can see it was originated as 'The Front Steps Project' out of Needham, Mass., and I decided to launch one for Little Falls."
Verdi, a full-time working mother with three children, is an amateur photographer who owns her own photo booth business-Blast Entertainment Group. She is also a member of the Little Falls Board of Education. She said she wanted to find a way make people happy through the new social distancing measures.
"I feel doing this provides just a little but of normalcy in this crazy time!," she said. "It’s having people blow their hair out, put a little make up on, get dressed and look forward to something - even if it's for five minutes. Some of the photos are funny and some are more natural. They are all great!"
According to Verdi, every cent will be given to a local Little Falls restaurant to prepare food for various places. The fee for booking a time slot is $20. Venmo is the preferred form of payment. After the time slot is confirmed, those who want her to stop by will place their name, address, cell phone number, email address and confirmed time slot via Venmo notes.Those who are interested can sign up for a 15-minute time slot and the photo shoot takes approximately five minutes. She will give family members a text to let them know that she is on her way to their home.
"I will have absolutely no contact with you or your family," she emphasized. "In most cases I will not even step foot on your property depending how far your front door is from the street."
Verdi said family members can sit or stand by their front door or front steps, and she will take the picture from 6 to 12 feet away, wearing a mask and gloves on. The family will receive a digital copy of the photos. One digital copy will be emailed available to be printed out at home. Every cent will be donated back.
"My goal was 50 homes to be able to provide $1000 worth of food," she further explained. "I have already surpassed that goal and it currently stands around $1,600. This funding will go towards supporting a local small business, as well as provide meals for the men and women on the front lines fighting this virus. This is why I chose to do this."
She said bookings are on a first come, first serve basis, and she will reply to time slot requests in the order they come in. Neighbors who would like to do a group time slot should notify her. She also said that it's easier to do one street at a time.
" I encourage families to get photo ready, and use this as an excuse to dress your family up or do it in real life mode and stay in your pajamas. Whatever works for you!" she added. "Don’t forget your fur babies too because pets are welcomed! Please look at the hashtag #thefrontstepsproject for fun ideas.!"
Casa Arutro, located at 75 Main Street, is one of the local restaurants who recently prepared and provided lunches, thanks to support from Verdi. The first round paid for 65 lunches that will be delivered to the Passaic County testing facility at William Paterson on Thursday, April 23. The next round will pay for 40 lunches at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Paterson to be delivered by Thursday, April 30.
Additionally, a total of 22 Shop Rite of Little Falls gift cards amounting to $25 each were recently distributed. 16 went to the St. Agnes Food Pantry and the remaining six went to Township officials in order to give to local families in need.
Verdi also said she will continue photo shoots for the remainder of April and into May if the mandate with social distancing continues and if there's a continued demand for it.
Mayor James Damiano took part in Verdi's photo session recently with his family. He said it's important to give people something to look forward to during unprecedented times, while giving back to healthcare workers who are battling the virus. He commended Verdi for the job she has done and continues doing.
"What an incredible job by giving people something to be excited about, while giving so much more to those on the front line," he said. "Lauren has always been so involved with this community, so it doesn't surprise me that she was so quick to act and not only involve the community from a distance, but then to feed those risking their lives each day. I absolutely applaud her efforts."
"What a fun thing to do while supporting such a great cause. It's absolutely incredible."
For more information and/or to book a photo shoot spot, visit the Facebook group - The Front Steps Project - Little Falls.