SOUTHINGTON — A series of homemade film recreations by a local family have been noticed by actor Will Smith and helped raise thousands to fight hunger.
“It was a really cool experience for us,” said Dan Presser, who’s created almost 50 videos with his children Maddie, 4, and Barton, 2, since April. Though it started with just the three of them, some neighbors make regular appearances and friends across the country also send in video.
The video series has also spread nationwide, allowing the family to raise almost $55,000 for Feeding America, a national hunger relief nonprofit.
“It's just like a welcome reprieve from all the chaos that’s been going on all year …” Presser said.
The family’s work caught the attention of Actor Will Smith’s company, Westbrook Inc., which contacted the family last month about making a virtual appearance on “Will From Home” — a Snapchat series Smith created to highlight “incredible people whose inspirational stories have been bright spots in the otherwise dark year of 2020.”
In the episode, Presser recounts how his daughter came up with the idea of raising money after watching cars lined up outside food pantries at the start of the pandemic.
Smith then had Dan Presser direct him and the kids in a virtual remake through some of his most iconic roles.
Maddie Presser and Smith virtually sang a piece from Aladdin together and Smith reprised roles from “Pursuit of Happiness,” “Men in Black” and “Independence Day.”
Smith also recognized the family’s goal of using the video series as a way of raising money for Feeding America by arranging for $15,000 in donations from national companies like Shutterstock, Banana Republic, and Janie and Jack.
As a reward for their fundraising efforts, Smith awarded the family an all-expense paid trip to Jamaica.
This was the second time the family was helped by a celebrity who noticed their online videos. In September motivational speaker Tony Robbins matched all the donations that had been made up to that point, adding $13,000.
The videos have also brought the neighborhood closer, said Emily St. John, who moved into the neighborhood in September. Her son, Austin St. John, 4, has been in around five already.
“What started as a really small idea at the beginning of quarantine for Dan and Beth turned into this huge fundraiser,” she said.
Her son Austin can take some pride in knowing that his efforts helped feed families in need.
“It’s hard to find these silver linings, but this has been one of the biggest ones … it's been a really great way to teach him how to give to others and build that sense of community and his awareness of life outside of his little bubble,” St. John said.