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Volunteers in Maple Ridge, B.C., prepare for a day photographing hundreds of people who can’t afford to pay for professional portraits.

It's common practice for many people to get an annual family portrait, or for graduating teens and others celebrating milestones to sit for a professional photograph. But when budgets are tight, photographs don't make the cut. Increasing numbers of people in cities and small towns across Canada are struggling with basics such as food and shelter. Help-Portrait offers people of limited means a professional photo session, complete with hair and make-up. Afterward, attendees leave with a beautiful printed photo.

"Being a small community, we don't have the level of corporate sponsorship that they may have in Vancouver," says Maria Squires, fundraising co-ordinator for the event in Maple Ridge, B.C. The small city (pop. 70,000), about an hour outside Vancouver, is one of 2,800 locations in 67 countries that host Help-Portrait events on the first Saturday of December. (Vancouver's takes place the last Saturday in November.)

"Every year I drop off my letters with people in the community that I've given business to over 27 years of living here, and just ask for some support back," says Ms. Squires.

The letters tell a tale increasingly common outside Canada's big cities: 70 per cent of Salvation Army users in the community are not homeless or living in a shelter; 14 per cent of Maple Ridge residents live below the poverty line. And because it's a community issue, explains Ms. Squires, other community-building fundraisers, such as an annual pub night that raised $3,000 last year, and this year's inaugural city-wide scavenger hunt that raised $800, are effective both at raising funds and spreading awareness.

"Lots of people come in with their hearts on their sleeves. We're a group of people that care a lot."

- Maria Squires
fundraising co-ordinator for the Help-Portrait event in Maple Ridge, B.C.

"These numbers aren't big, but they make a huge difference to the kind of welcoming, non-judgmental experience we can offer our more vulnerable neighbours," says Brenda Garcia, event co-ordinator.

On picture day, volunteers strive to create a festive atmosphere, filling the Golden Ears United Church Hall with live music, a daycare for small children and delicious food. Photographers, editors, hair stylists, make-up artists and other volunteers bustle about, helping attendees navigate to the services they need. At the end of the day, 250 to 300 participants receive first-class treatment, leaving with increased confidence and self-worth.

"Lots of people come in with their hearts on their sleeves," says Ms. Squires. "We're a group of people that care a lot."




Year Help-Portrait was founded


Number of locations that host Help-Portrait events


Number of countries where Help-Portrait events take place

This content was produced by Randall Anthony Communications, in partnership with The Globe and Mail's advertising department. The Globe's editorial department was not involved in its creation.