Editor’s note: This is one in a periodic series called Stepping Up, highlighting moments of compassion, duty and community in uncertain times. Have a story we should tell? Send it via email to firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject “Stepping Up.”
For the first time in longer than she cares to admit, Adrienne Query-Fiss changed out of her pajamas into what she called “something appropriate.”
Since schools closed in Seattle weeks ago due to the coronavirus outbreak, the 37-year-old freelance writer has been at home with her husband and two kids.
“I don’t know who’s bathed or brushed their teeth,” Query-Fiss said with a laugh. “What day is it? It’s like Groundhog Day. We needed something to break the monotony.”
This is where Meryl Alcabes steps in.
A few weeks ago, Alcabes, an event photographer, put the call out to friends and Seward Park neighbors asking who would be willing to have their pictures taken while depicting how they’re coping with the stay-home measures.
“Within a half an hour I got 20 responses,”Alcabes said. “It’s just really taken off and it’s been a lot of fun. I’ve never done anything that’s made so many people so happy.”
With her favorite camera, a Nikon D810 and a 24-70 millimeter lens, “that feels like an extension of my hand,” Alcabes has photographed roughly 25 families outside of their homes while maintaining a 6-feet distance.
She gives families copies of the photos, posts pictures on her Facebook account and is considering displaying the project at a local exhibit.
What began as a lighthearted and fun way to pass the time has blossomed into a labor of love that has spread joy and strengthened the community in the South Seattle neighborhood while chronicling the challenges of living with COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.
“I’m amazed that she had the energy to do a project where so many of us are just in survival mode,” Query-Fiss said. “I thought it was really remarkable that she had a vision and passion to pull it off. And she did.
“When I heard about it, I jumped at the chance. Are you kidding me?”
On a warm and sunny spring afternoon, Query-Fiss and her husband Victor posed with their sons Zaik, 6, and Daniel, 5, in the front yard of their home.
“Pretend like you’re fighting the virus,” Alcabes told the boys who wielded a toy sword and shield. “Really get into it.”
Query-Fiss said she blow-dried her hair and put on earrings for the first time in weeks and was excited about entertaining visitors — even if they stood on the sidewalk.
“I’ve been waiting for this since 8:30 this morning,” Query-Fiss said smiling. “You get to dress up and look nice for someone other than your family. Who does that anymore?”
Yonit Diaz and her children Leah, 13, and Ari, 12, posed on the front steps of their Seward Park home with their faces covered next to their 11-year-old dog Schnitzel and an assortment of books.
“We’re all big readers,” said Diaz, who often leaves bags of books for her neighbors. “We operate as a lending library so it didn’t occur to me to pose with our electronics.
“This is who we are. It’s who we’ve been since all of this happened. For me, it’s good to show my kids that we’re not the only ones going through this and how other people are handling it.”
Alcaebes has photographed some families while gardening, playing catch with the football or re-enacting their home-schooling activities. Others posed with laptops, canned foods, coffee mugs and teddy bears.
Dr. Peter Rabinowitz, who is the director of the UW MetaCenter for Pandemic Preparedness, his wife Nelly and son Aaron were hanging were bee larvae for pollination when Alcabes stopped by for a photo shoot.
“Meryl brings out the sunshine and if not for her this would not have happened,” said Cecilia who posed in the doorway of her home with her husband Rabbi Simon Benzaquen. “She gave us a reason to feel normal again.
“We need a reason to carry on living. She made us believe that we can get through this and get back to how things used to be.”