A. Garcia / SFVS

Three generations of Ruben Lopez came dressed in overalls for their first professional family photo courtesy of Help Portrait San Fernando.

Accommodating all seven of the Kelley’s kids took a while.

One would pick up the present boxes while the other put his or hers down. Or one would pick up two boxes and move around, forcing the photographer to start over again.

But the photos of Paris, 9; E’mya, 7; Sunday, 6; Angelina and Angelia, 5; La’dell, 2; and little Ja’nea, 1 (in her mother’s arms), showed a happy, playful family. It was the perfect holiday shot.

Yes, all seven kids — three of which attend San Fernando Elementary School and a couple attend Osceola Elementary — are a handful as their mother, Crystal, can attest. But they are also her joy and, until Saturday, Dec. 3, she didn’t have a good picture of all of them together.

Now she does.

The family was one of 93 selected to get an early Christmas present: a professional holiday photo at Help Portrait San Fernando, an event where photographers, hairstylists and makeup artists — as well as dozens of other volunteers — come together to provide a little holiday cheer to those who need it most.

“It’s a blessing,” said Crystal, of having been picked through San Fernando Elementary School to be one of the families getting the free portrait this year.

“It’s great,” she said. “It saved me some money of having to do a family photo. I wanted one. I’m going to put it in the living room, by the (Christmas) tree.

“It’s an early Christmas present,” she noted.

A Christmas Tradition

Help Portrait is an annual event where photographers from around the world give back to their local community by providing holiday portraits to families who otherwise couldn’t afford them.

There are dozens of events held throughout the country and the world. In the City of San Fernando, the event has occurred since 2009. So far, more than 425 portraits have been taken.

It costs about $4,000 to organize the event, which receives donations from the City of San Fernando, Kiwanis Club of San Fernando, the Gas Company and Ultra Greens, among others.

The day starts early and it’s a busy one at Las Palmas Park, where the recreation center is taken over by the Help Portrait crew.

Upon arrival, families are taken to a hospitality room where they can enjoy a continental breakfast. Many come in their Sunday best and are well-groomed. If not, makeup artists and hairstylists do their magic in another room.

There is childcare available on-site and a basketball court, with an enormous Christmas tree in the middle, that is split into six photography studios where families pose, one right after another. Lights, computers and photography equipment is everywhere.

Antoinette Muhilly, a hairstylist, has donated her talent and time for the past five years.

“I like to give my time. I enjoy what I do. All I do is try to make them feel beautiful so they can have a great holiday photo of their families,” said Muhilly, as she worked on Dulce Vargas’ hair.

Vargas, a 22-year-old mother of Allison, 4 and Roy, 2, was selected by the organization Communities in School.

 “We really don’t have a picture and we want a family portrait,” Vargas said.

A Tangible Memory

Everyone has a cell phone today. Taking a selfie and sharing it on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat or any number of other social media platforms is second nature to most people.

But few people bother to print them out.

The 8X10 photos given out by Help Portrait are very special for the families who participate. 

Alas Media, a San Fernando-based, digital business owned by Rosa Maria and Elizabeth Ruvalcaba, spearheads the event locally each year. 

Help-Portrait was founded by celebrity photographer Jeremy Cowart and Kyle Chowning in 2008 with the mission  to empower photographers, hairstylists and makeup artists to use their skills, tools and expertise to give back to their  community.

They understood that many can’t afford the high cost of having a professional photographer take their photo, and families would appreciate having a special holiday photo with their loved ones. 

Claudia Gomez sure does.

The mother of Marisela, 22; Liliana, 20; Daisy, 15; Hugo 14; Elizabeth, 9; and Andrew, 2, posed with all her children and two of her grandchildren — Gissele, 5; and Sussy, 4.

It’s been four years since Gomez took a family portrait and there were some additions to the family which were missing from the last one. So it was high time for a new one.

“It’s something special for me. I’ll frame it and put it in the living room,” the 34-year-old Sylmar resident said.

“I collect photo albums for my kids. Each one has one with all their pictures since they were babies, so this is a good memory.”

That means she’ll get to print and divide all the shots taken at Saturday’s event among her children.

Besides the 8X10 photograph — which the families select from all the shots taken — they also receive a memory stick with the rest of the photos so they can print extras if they want.

The families also receive a poinsettia plant, and a goody bag with snacks and toys. This year, following the city’s Healthy San Fernando theme, the toys were mostly balls and hula hoops, and anything else that gets kids moving.

But the real treat is the photograph.

The Ruben Lopez family can attest to that

Three generations – the 72-year-old grandfather, his 24-year-old son and 2-year-old grandson Ruben Alvarado-Lopez (all dressed in overalls) — posed for a portrait.

“It’s our first photo with all three boys,” the junior Lopez said. “It’s something to cherish. You rarely get to take a picture. Instead, it’s just about posting it to the Internet.”

“This is something to pass on to the entire family,” the older Lopez said.