Uniting a community through a camera lens

By on March 27, 2020


Tori DeAngleo and Josh Meekins of Kill Devil Hills with their children McKinney, Vinson and Goldie. (Kati Wilkins)

As the COVID-19 pandemic shuts down the regular rhythms of life, the sense of isolation can feel overwhelming. But some local photographers are using their talents to capture moments of family time as a way to bring the community together and raise much-needed funds for the Beach Food Pantry.

In exchange for taking family portraits on front steps of homes up and down the Outer Banks, photographers are asking families to donate to the Beach Food Pantry. Within three days of launching the effort, the group has already raised $1,800, according to Kati Wilkins. Wilkins is one of the photographers who leads the Outer Banks’ version of #TheFrontStepsProject, an idea that originated in mid-March with two photographers from Needham, MA.

The Needham project quickly spread to communities around the country and throughout the world, Wilkins said. And after just a few days into the local effort, Wilkins said she’s received more than 100 requests. She and photographers Erin Lundy, Audra Kreig, Tiffany Collier, Whitney Norko and Madeline Thompson have divided up the Outer Banks in order to take as many portraits as possible.

According to #TheFrontStepsProject website, “The purpose of this project is to bring us together virtually when we might feel isolated. We aim to highlight the faces of our community during a time when we might not see them in passing at the grocery store, coffee shop, on the train or at the gym.”

Wilkins has found that the project has provided a connection that is desperately needed during trying times. While rushing around to take portraits on March 27, she drove by the Beach Food Pantry.

“I just looked over and saw it full of cars and people and I knew I couldn’t give up on this project,” she said. “It just gave me the momentum I needed to go again.”

Wilkins said that going house to house, seeing families and friends that she typically encounters out in the community on a daily basis, has been an emotional journey that has brought her a lot of joy.

“We keep a 10-foot distance at all times, most of the time I didn’t even need to get out of the car,” she explained. “I could just shoot with my long lens.”

Wilkins shared a story of a close friend, a Vietnam Veteran who she typically sees on almost a daily basis. “I haven’t seen him in person in like nineteen days, and he let me come to his backyard and photograph him from 10 feet away,” she said. “You know, it was a hard moment to be behind the lens, and not be able to be out with your friends like you used to be.”

Her Facebook page, K Wilkins Photography, along with those of the other participating photographers, are filled with reminders of the smiling faces of family members across the Outer Banks. And even if families are unable to donate, photographers will still take their portraits.

For Wilkins, and the group of photographers, their pictures are reminders that “we’re all in this together,” she said.  “Photographing these families just as they are right now in this uncertain time, I’m reminded how beautiful it all is.”


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