Connecting a Community from the Front Steps: Ohio Airman uses photography to raise spirits and donations for COVID-19 relief

  • Published
  • By Senior Master Sgt. Beth Holliker
  • 180th Fighter Wing

As the new novel coronavirus continues to sweep across the country and stay-at-home orders are extended, many Americans are feeling the stress of isolation as they stay home to stay safe.

In Ohio, the story is much the same, with the stay-at-home order in place until May 1, 2020, and schools closed for the remainder of the academic year, in an effort to flatten the curve, stop the spread and keep Ohioans safe.

For Ohio National Guard Airman, Staff Sgt. Nathan Rumbaugh, a weapons loader assigned to the 180th Fighter Wing, using his extra time at home was a great way to brush up on his photography skills.

“I have always dreamed of having a job that would allow me to use my love of photography and design to help make life better for others,” said Rumbaugh. “Then I saw a news story of an east coast photographer capturing photos on their front porches and ‘I thought why not try this in Toledo.’”

Not only did Rumabugh want to engage the community through photography, he wanted to help the community and those in need as the stresses of COVID-19 continue to impact daily lives, straining access to critical needs like food and necessities.

“I wanted to do something to help,” said Rumbaugh. “And this is a way to also get people outside, boost morale, lift spirits and give people something fun to look forward too, at the same time.”

Partnering with the United Way of Greater Toledo, Rumbaugh officially launched the Toledo Front Steps Project in April, 2020.

“We are so proud of individuals like Nathan, who have stepped up and asked themselves, ‘How can I help during this time?’,” said Wendy Pestrue, President and CEO, United Way of Greater Toledo. “It shows that anyone in our community can use their skills to give back in some capacity. The dollars raised will go on to support United Way’s Emergency Response Fund, which will help community-based organizations serve those in need during this crisis.”
“The Toledo Front Steps Project is a simple, yet fun and creative way to connect our community with a snapshot in time, a keepsake from this historical time in our history,” said Rumbaugh. “But the project is also engaging the community to support those in need by donating to the United Way of Greater Toledo.”

While it isn’t your normal, hour-long, family portrait session at a beautiful outdoor location, Rumbaugh comes right to your door for a fast and fun, five minute session, from a safe social distance, providing a life-long memory of your family at your home, a record of history.

When Chief Master Sgt. Edward Wagner, 180th Fighter Wing Command Chief, heard about Rumbaugh’s project, he signed up for a session, not only to support the community, but as a way to connect with family and friends on social media.

“I don’t think that social distancing stops our engagement with each other,” Wagner said. I thought this was a really great idea, not only to help Nathan and the United Way’, but also because these pictures are connecting our community.”

“We are social animals so we have to find other ways to connect with our family, friends, and coworkers,” Wagner continued. “Just go on Facebook and look at all of the positive comments the simple act of having your photo taken on your front steps.”

Waiving the normal sitting fees for family photo sessions, Rumbaugh is simply asking for families to make a donation through his website to help him reach his goal of $10,000.

“We’re already halfway to our goal, with $5,400 raised already,” said Rumbaugh. We just kicked the project off about two weeks ago.”

The United Way’s Emergency Response Fund United Way’s Emergency Response Fund was developed to address ongoing, and emerging, health and human service needs, as COVID-19 continues to impact every corner of the community.

“We are incredibly proud to have already raised over $300,000 for this fund,” said Pestrue “In the next month, we hope to invest $100,000 in total to tackle food insecurity, as pantries and meal service entities manage unprecedented numbers of those seeking nutrition resources. We have to get resources out to those who can improve food security through new or existing programs, so that we can focus on the next chapter of community needs and then the chapter after that. Donations, like Nathan’s, will help move our work forward.”

Not only are Northwest Ohio families rushing to sign up for their Toledo Front Steps Project photo sessions, local small businesses are now joining the cause, showing support of the communities that support their businesses.

Retired Ohio National Guard members and owners of the Flying Joe Coffee Shop, Lt. Col. John Ohm and Lt. Col. Becky Ohm, were one of the first businesses to sign up.

“The Flying Joe is honored to be part of the Toledo Front Steps Project and help highlight what Nathan and the United Way are doing,” said Becky Ohm, co-owner of the Flying Joe. “We hope that this helps spread the word of the need in our community and the positive things people are doing to help.”

Nearing the halfway mark for his donation goal, Rumbaugh has already completed 80 sessions and has more than 50 scheduled throughout the rest of April, and more requests coming in each day.

“I am just blown away with the community response and excitement for this project,” Rumbaugh said. “I am smiling at the end of each day because it is so great to see the community coming together to support the community.”

“We are so grateful for Nathan’s work,” Pestrue said. “The Front Steps Project is such a unique one. It’s bringing families out of their homes and putting smiles on faces during a difficult time. That alone is incredibly special.”

“Nathan is such a giving person and his willingness to donate his time for people in need is an inspiration to all of us,” said Ohm.

100% of the donations to the Toledo Front Steps Project will go directly to the United Way of Greater Toledo.

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