Sharing Christmas spirit

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The fourth annual Help Portrait Day in Tillsonburg took place Saturday at the Station Arts Centre.

The Tillsonburg Photography Club and the Station Arts Centre, along with local sponsors such as Coward Pharmacy, Staples, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Ingersoll, Tillsonburg and Area, The Salvation Army and Community Living, combined efforts to share the spirit of Christmas by helping local families and individuals receive a special gift – a professional portrait.

“The Tillsonburg Photography Club and the Station Arts Centre partner together to take pictures of families or individuals in need, who may not be able to afford an expensive portrait sitting,” said MaryAnn Balazs, coordinator for the Help Portrait Day in Tillsonburg. “This event has been going on for many years and is held every year around Christmas time in December.”

Help Portrait is an international event held in 60 countries around the world and sees an average of over 200,000 portraits ‘given’ rather than taken, by local photographers, as a way for them to give back to their communities.

There were two portrait studio settings at the Station Arts Centre in Tillsonburg.

“What we’ve done this year is one studio set-up is with the Christmas tree and another studio set-up is only a plain (black) background. So people have a choice. If they’d like the Christmas tree backdrop for giving to their families at Christmas or to have a Christmas theme with their picture, we can do that for them. If they prefer to have a picture taken with just a plain background then they get that too.”

Dozens of families participated Saturday.

“I thought we would come out and try it,” said Joni Vannatter, who was joined by her three daughters, Haven Vannatter, Savannah Meseure and Autumn Vannatter. “We’ve never had a family portrait. I think it’s really nice – not everybody can afford it. It’s a beautiful thing to have done.”

Balazs said Help Portrait Day helps give people a dignified way in providing them with a beautiful family photo for their home or a gift.

“We make it very comfortable for them when they come in – everyone’s very relaxed, we make it a happy atmosphere with our Christmas hats, jingle bells and our enthusiasm. We try to make them feel very comfortable in having their photos taken.”

In addition to the new Christmas theme offered this year, children and parents were treated to cookies, Timbits and hot chocolate during the event, and at the end of the photo shoot, children received an early Christmas gift.

“On their way out, because they were such good girls and boys, Santa left them little teddy bears or a stuffed toy,” said Balazs. “Our whole group is here to make everyone relaxed and enjoy the Help Portrait experience.”

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