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Group Helps Families Get Free Portraits

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IOWA CITY, Iowa - They say a picture is worth a thousand words, but it can also cost a lot of money. That's why Iowa City's Paris Johnson has never had a family portrait taken.

"They have good deals, but I didn't want to get cheap ones, and they look cheap. Then, the more expensive ones, they look very nice, but they're really expensive," said Johnson.

Her image impasse ended Saturday. She and her kids were getting that family photo taken by a group called Help-Portrait Iowa City, all at no charge.

"It was totally free," said Johnson.

It was the same for anyone who showed up at the annual one-day event, at the Iowa Memorial Union. Families registered, got a little help with hair and makeup, then got their smiles on.

Last year was the group's first shoot. Photographers only snapped and printed 48 portraits. This year, cameras almost couldn't keep up. An estimated 400 portraits were shot and printed.

"It's grown exponentially, more than we would have expected," said Alicia Hoecherl, with Help-Portrait Iowa City.

While the free pictures were obviously the big draw, Hoecherl said their group was giving families more.

"Help-Portrait is about helping people understand their value and worth as a human and helping them to see the beauty of their family," Hoecherl said.

You could certainly see the beauty in Johnson's pictures. Beyond the smiles, their photos had a deeper significance.

"For the future, for memories. Anything can happen. You can always look at that picture and think, 'We were all together, at least that day,' " Johnson said.

Help-Portrait isn't just in Iowa City. It's an international non-profit, started in 2009, with chapters across the globe.

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