When Lauren Deroche’s husband gave her a camera for her birthday five years ago, she had no inkling what it would ultimately lead to.
“He handed it to me and said, ‘good luck,’” Deroche said. “It was really to learn how to take better pictures of my kids. But it became a hobby and a passion.”
She found she had a knack for it, and others took notice – to the point that the St. Rose Elementary teacher spun her newfound skills into a side business, Deroche Photography, that’s allowed her to further hone her craft while bringing in a bit of extra income.
But these days, Deroche is using her gift – in two senses of the word – to help others. And in particular, she’s helping those who are helping others. She’s photographed 30 families locally free of charge, but they’re in turn donated more than $2,400 that Deroche has used to give back to frontline and essential workers during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“People in other parishes have done these front kinds of front porch photos, but nobody near us really has. Or if they have, it’s been something a little different,” Deroche said. “So I was thinking it would be a way to help people, that ‘hey, if this is something I can do to help front line workers while I’m sitting here at home at a safe distance, it’s the least I can do.’”
She’s been taking the photos while practicing social distancing. While she can’t get as involved with the process as she would normally – “I’m usually more interactive, fixing hair and things like that” – but the end result has been positive.
So far, she’s been able to purchase meals to feed workers at St. Charles Parish Hospital, Destrehan Pharmacy and Luling Nursing Home; purchased crafts for the residents of Luling Nursing Home; gift cards for workers at Ochsner’s main campus pediatrics unit, as well as gift cards for essential workers like delivery, mail and trash collection workers. She’s also donated to St. Anthony Church’s food bank. And she hasn’t stopped.
“It’s really been a blessing and it’s reached way more people than I ever thought,” Deroche said. “It’s really a way to say thank you for all their dedication and time … at the nursing home, patients can’t even visit with family now. At least it’s something to bring a little smile to their day, I hope.”
The photography itself has been a means of brightening a few days as well, allowing some families to feel some form of normalcy, perhaps for the first time in awhile in some cases.
“A few people were just asking me if I could do it at first, and that’s what got me thinking,” Deroche said. “I know my kids were pretty sad that we haven’t been able to get dressed up to go anywhere.”
The pictures themselves capture one of the things some have looked to as a silver lining amid the pandemic: families getting to slow down a bit to spend some extra time together.
While she admits the work has been a bit overwhelming at times – following a shoot, Deroche processes and finished the photos in a process that takes a couple of hours per family – the rewards have been worth it.
“If if gives them that sense of normalcy and something to cherish for years to come, that’s payment enough to me,” Deroche said.