Hurricane Sandy has come and gone, but residents of South Jersey are still picking up the pieces. Sand has filled the streets and floods have left treasured items destroyed.
Pete Brescia, 29, came back to his Ventnor home on Nashville Avenue to three feet of water - walls swollen, mold forming and family photos ruined.
One South Jersey man, however, plans to do his part with a camera in his hand and a strong determination to bring a smile to the Brescia family's faces.
Beau Ridge, of Beau Ridge Photography, is scheduling free family portraits into his appointment book for those who may have lost theirs to the storm.
Brescia reached out immediately to have photos taken of him and his wife, Gina, and their infant son, Dominic.
"These new photos will represent our survival," he said.
Ridge, a Northfield native who has worked professionally out of his Absecon apartment for the past six years, said all he has to do is go "click."
"Everyone has a specific skill set," Ridge said. "I am able to take photos. Only thing it costs (me) is time. That's it."
With at least 40,000 photos under his belt, the Royal Jelly Nightclub resident photographer has shot numerous weddings and local fundraisers. But he will be the first to tell you the importance of a family portrait.
His mother, Linwood school teacher Christine Spurlock, taught him everything she knew about the craft. During a recent trip to his makeshift studio space, Ridge could still recall a photo she took of him and his older sister playing years ago.
"Why do we take photos? To capture this memory so that we can relive it in the future," he said. "How many people sit there and look at a photo and they cry, look at a photo and they smile, look at a photo and they giggle?"
Ridge is prepared to face any challenge that may come his way. Families without cars - Ridge has portable equipment ready to go. Families who have lost a family member since their original photo was taken - Ridge has plans to get help with Photoshop retouching.
"Getting the shot is all that matters," said the photographer who plans to have his own personal studio on the White Horse Pike in Absecon running by 2013.
The photographer's infectious passion already has spread. As calls and emails come in for appointments, so are offers to help out with the cause.
"I had someone from Michigan reach out. He was considering coming to town to do a similar thing," Ridge said.
The photographer, who oozes positivity, is not naive in regards to the destruction caused. He explained that he expects people to schedule shoots into next year because some still aren't able to go home.
"People have more important things to worry about," he said.
He has already lent a hand to his immediate family and friends, as well as donated supplies to those sheltered at Pleasantville High School, but knows that physical labor can only go so far.
"We can constantly physically move forward. We can constantly clean. We can keep pushing. But if we don't have that morale, that personal drive, (we're) nothing more than a chain gang."
Ridge's mission is to bring hope through replacing photographs and replenishing memories and to inspire others around him to do the same.
"One idea can create waves of positivity. And that's what we need," he said. "This is when we literally need to come together. This is when we rebuild together."
Ridge, an old friend of Brescia, will photograph the family in Smithville, where the couple were engaged.
"Everyone deserves a family portrait. Everyone deserves to be able to remember something positive, especially when we are in a place right now where positivity is a little hard to find. With a portrait, it's a little more personal. It's you and what's immediately important to you."
To make an appointment with Beau Ridge, see beauridge
photography.comor call 609-287-8012.
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