“Every year it looks like there might not be a Help-Portrait event in Bradenton.”
Randall Tosch is passionate about Help-Portrait Bradenton (Florida) because he’s seen so many lives touched from it. But circumstances seemed to mount against the team: several had lost their jobs right before the event and a triple murder involving a pastor’s family left the community reeling and hurting. “It seemed like everything that could have gone wrong did.”
With the help of dedicated volunteers, their sixth event was a success. Ten photographers, several of them volunteering for the first time, provided 132 framed portraits of 62 guests. “Then a miracle happens and suddenly smiling people are telling you how much they appreciate great framed photos they just received. One of those was the recipient of the 1,500th portrait we have delivered over to date.”
Help-Portrait has some pretty special volunteers whose work extends beyond annual Help-Portrait events. “Two of our photographers are now in full time homeless ministry,” he said. Ian and Christine Loomes began a ministry called Downtown Ministries, which serves breakfast to homeless people in downtown Bradenton on Saturday morning. They have adopted the kitchen at the Salvation Army downtown and are serving additional meals during the week. “They also have ‘moved into the neighborhood,’ so to speak, and play with the neighborhood kids an afternoon a week,” he said. “Another
A TURNING POINT
A woman who describes herself as a “homeless advocate” escorted a woman to Help-Portrait Bradenton several years ago and offered this update to Randall, which he recounts here:
“The guest had been on the street for nearly 30 years and had not seen her children for 20 years. After going through the event she saw her photo and broke down. All the makeup we had applied ran everywhere and she swore right there to turn her life around.
“It seems that, concurrently, our local law enforcement had seen enough of her. She had a court date a few weeks later. The prosecutor had made it perfectly clear to the advocate and public defender they were going to throw the book at her.
“When they arrived in court with ‘the new lady,’ the female prosecuting attorney asked to approach the bench. Shortly after they asked the public defender and then the advocate, telling me the story, to approach. When she got there the prosecutor asked, ‘What are you trying to pull?’ She was not sure what that question meant. It seems that the accused had cleaned up so well that the prosecutor thought it was not really her.
“The guest had been on the street for nearly 30 years and had not seen her children for 20 years. After going through the event she saw her photo and broke down. All the makeup we had applied ran everywhere and she swore right there to turn her life around.”
“After assuring the judge that it most certainly was and that she had completely turned her life around the judge asked what she, the advocate, attributed it to. She said, ‘I would not have brought it up your honor but since you asked, the love of Christ.’
“Long story short they gave her another period of probation. I was told this story two years after the fact. She has been completely sober for that time. She is working in a store and helping at a shelter. She made copies of the photos and reunited with her children and met grandchildren she didn’t know she had.
“Can Help Portrait make a difference? Uhhh, yeah!”
“Like most HP events, we provide a complete makeover, hair, nails and makeup before the photo. There is even a shower room if needed. They get a 15 minute photo session and another 15 at the computer to choose the photo and watch the Photoshop magic. All the while getting love from our photogs and volunteers. The makeovers are provided by the local salon college.”
“Twenty-five members of First Baptist Church of Bradenton provided love to our guests who came from our local domestic violence shelter and a women’s recovery shelter.”
“It can be scary to face something unknown. That said, the reward can be great for the volunteer. There is no feeling that can compare to seeing the light go on when your guest realizes that somebody really can love them. They, and you, will never forget it.”
Thanks, Randall and Help-Portrait Bradenton, for sharing your stories with us!