This is not an exit

Volunteers at Whiteaker exhibit the spirit of giving

In Uncategorized on December 2, 2010 at 5:41 pm

Aloma Calacin takes a portrait for the Sanchez family during the Whiteaker Community Dinner on Thanksgiving. The event celebrated its 22nd anniversary this year.

As Gabe Sanchez and his family lined up for a family portrait, Aloma Calacin sidestepped several other photographers, a woman dragging a plastic bag full of used clothing and a man holding a platter full of desserts.

It might be an unusual sight anywhere else on another day of the year, but on Thanksgiving at Whiteaker School, nobody thinks twice about it.

Calacin and a handful of Jeri Mrazek’s Photo 1 students volunteered at the 22nd annual Whiteaker Community Dinner to shoot portraits for folks who don’t have the means to pay for a professional to do so.

“It’s not about taking photos,” Mrazek said. “It’s about giving them.”

Last year, the trip out to Whiteaker was an extra credit assignment. Today, however, Mrazek’s students are helping out as part of their final project.

“I think it’s the whole idea of giving back that really gets people on board with it,” Mrazek said.

For Calacin, shooting free portraits isn’t restricted to the holiday season. She set up the Free Photo Project last year and has been a fixture at events like the Whiteaker Block Party and Project Homeless Connect.

Thanksgiving, however, is one of the days Calacin looks forward to most.

“It’s definitely one of my favorites,” she said.

The seat in front of the backdrops was never without an occupant. If there was no line for portraits, bystanders would simply walk up, inquire and sit down.

“It’s so great that there’s people out there who care so much,” said Robin Mowry, who had her portrait taken by photography student Chris Tiba.

In addition to Calacin and Mrazek’s photography class, LCC had plenty of presence throughout the event.

Beverly Farfan and Sue Thompson are big names to anyone wearing a volunteer badge.

Farfan coordinates many aspects of the event and Thompson spearheads the sleeping bag drive.

“Beverly has been very instrumental in getting this event in existence,” academic learning skills instructor Karen Myers said.

Erik Debuhr isn’t a student at the college, but he sure knows Farfan and Thompson.

“Of course I know Beverly,” he said. “She’s a big name out here.”

While Debuhr, an employee at NextStep Recycling, grew up in Eugene, this is the first year he’s volunteered at the Whiteaker Community Dinner.

“I’ve heard about the event for years,” he said. “It’s kind of a spectacle.”

He says that in his travels around the country — he left Oregon after high school and moved through Arizona, Colorado and California before returning — he hasn’t noticed as much generosity as he’s experienced in Eugene.

“People care here more,” he said. “It’s just kind of the culture. It’s more neighborhood-y.”

In addition to the portraits and food, sleeping bags, toothbrushes and a number of other essential items were distributed during the event.

As Andrew Butler examined the new sleeping bag he’d acquired with his dog Chunk, he couldn’t help but smile when he recounted his experience at the event.

“I can’t think of anywhere that has a better sense of community than Eugene,” he said.

After rolling up the sleeping bag and loading it into a plastic bag — along with a few articles of clothing and a toothbrush — Butler considered getting a portrait shot taken.

“I wonder if they’d take a picture of me and my dog,” he said.

This story first appeared in The Torch and is reprinted with permission.

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