Lifestyles

Student captures vision for humanitarian aid

From Montana, St. Louis, New Mexico and Colorado to Kenya, Honduras and Belize, senior biblical and theological studies senior Elizabeth Grumulaitis sees the world through her camera lens.

Grumulaitis pursues many different art forms. Her favorite is photography: specifically, street and travel photography for capturing natural moments.

“Photography is not just a hobby for me. It is something that I am passionate about, I want to share these people’s stories with others,” Grumulaitis said. “God has given me the ability to see the world in a way that translates to photographs. I want to capture the moments and share them with others.”

When she was young, Grumulaitis loved to steal cameras from family members. During high school, she took Photography 1 and fell in love. “I could take the photos, but then also still be involved in the entire process of developing and exposing the film,” Grumulaitis said.

After developing her skills with film, Grumulaitis saved up for a entry-level DSLR camera for mission trips and vacations. She soon became known on her various journeys as the designated photographer.

“At that point I wasn’t confident enough to show my art to anyone, but I took a lot of pictures on mission trips and tried to capture those moments,” Grumulaitis said. “People saw me doing it and assumed I was taking photos for the trip and I became that person.”

Grumulaitis realized others enjoyed her shared photos work as well. Her church often used her portraits to promote various mission trips. This was the beginning of Grumulaitis’s use of art to help those around her.

“I want to share these people’s stories with others,” Grumulaitis said. “If viewers are never able to meet the people from my journeys, but they saw this picture, could they see the story that would in such a way move them to be a part of an organization?”

Grumulaitis currently works with Feed My Starving Children, a national anti-hunger non-profit organization. She first heard about them when they partnered with her church in Houston, Texas. But it wasn’t until after a mission trip to Kenya that Grumulaitis felt called to look into the program.

“At a church mission trip to Kenya I saw poverty and hunger firsthand in a different way. My heart broke for the people and I felt that hunger was a place that I could actually make an impact,” Grumulaitis said.

With FMSC in the back of her mind, she sought involvement with hunger relief organizations after arriving at JBU and meeting Parker Chenoweth, where he told her about Tacos for Life in Conway, AR.

Parker’s cousin and his uncle started Tacos for Life, and his father is the head of missions for the organization. Chenoweth has been involved since it opened in 2014.

“For Elizabeth, the chance to work with non-profits goes hand in hand with her photography,” Chenoweth said. “You almost could not have one without the other in her. Every new event offers the chance to capture it in her unique way and spread it to everyone who will look and listen.”

As a volunteer, Grumulaitis took pictures for FMSC and Tacos for Life until they noticed her work and her hobby became a tool. The organizations used her photographs to show the impact they were making through their events and outreach.

“I just saw all these kids with these big smiling faces as they packed these mobile packs for other kids and thought it was incredible,” Grumulaitis said. “I looked around and no one was capturing these moments and I thought that it needed to be captured and shared.”

But Grumulaitis and Chenowith weren’t content with merely volunteering. In February, the duo had the ambitious idea of bringing a Mobile Pack to JBU’s campus. Together, the two brought the packing process to JBU students, packing 108,864 meals for children in Honduras.

Two months later they saw their work in action on a vision trip with Tacos for Life to care points in Honduras. There, Grumulaitis completed her journey from photographer to humanitarian aid worker, breaking open the boxes to cook for and feed the children.

Even though she was just there as a volunteer, Grumulaitis took the photo opportunity of the moments around her, capturing the narrative of her trip.

“Her photography allows her to see the details in unique and beautiful ways,” Chenoweth said. “From young, hungry girls in Honduras to full, exuberant girls in the U.S. packing food for the first to eat, Elizabeth sees their beauty and joy and saves it through her camera. It gives her the chance to show that everyone is worth noticing, and that the ones most overlooked can be the greatest sources of good pictures and stories.”