FreshLens students in a 2018 class. Credit: FreshLens

RAVENSWOOD — Neighbors are rallying around a North Side nonprofit after $10,000 of photography equipment was stolen from its studio last month, a theft that threatens to cancel the free classes the group offers children from under-resourced communities.

The burglary at FreshLens occurred around 4 a.m. July 30, founder Shirley Nannini said. The group’s classes are at Richard Stromberg’s Chicago Photography Classes at 4001 N. Ravenswood Ave.

An unidentified woman could be seen on security cameras walking through the building, followed a few minutes later by a man who broke into the studio and filled a large backpack with cameras and other equipment such as lenses and hard drives, Nannini said. He stole at least $10,000 of equipment and then left, seemingly on foot, she said. It does not appear as though the woman seen on the footage took anything, Nannini said.

There was a second break-in Aug. 3 but FreshLens had moved the remaining equipment to a more secure location, Nannini said.

Nannini set up a GoFundMe page to raise money to replace the gear. Supporters quickly flooded the group with donations, topping $12,000 by Monday night.

“People don’t like to see kids hurt, so there has been a real outpouring and we’re incredibly grateful for that,” Nannini said.

A police spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

FreshLens offers photography classes and resources to students from middle school through college, and “no kid has ever paid one dime to be a part of it,” Nannini said. Programs are fully funded through donations to ensure young artists can participate regardless of their finances, according to the website.

Students do classroom instruction to learn the basics of digital photography and photo composition, take field trips and photo walks, complete assignments and learn editing software and printing, according to the website. Students can frame and exhibit their work, and get 50 percent of the proceeds from any sales of their photos, according to the website.

Students who finish the program receive a gently used camera they can keep, according to the website.

“It does take resources and we’re very committed to serving kids, so any help that anyone is able to give, we will use those dollars carefully,” Nannini said.

FreshLens students gather at The Bean. Credit: FreshLens/GoFundMe

While $10,000 worth of equipment was stolen, the group’s fundraising goal was slightly higher because some the stolen items were donated and hadn’t been added to the organization’s inventory yet, Nannini said.

The equipment also wasn’t insured, which means the organization has to replace everything itself or it can’t continue its programs, Nannini said.

“As we are constantly taking in and giving out equipment to our kids, we unfortunately were not able to set up insurance for the gear that was stolen,” Nannini wrote in an email to the FreshLens community. “If we can’t replace the equipment, we will be unable to run multiple classes for kids, who come from areas of the city where owning a camera is not economically feasible.”

You can donate to help FreshLens here. Nannini said if anyone recognizes the man in the surveillance footage, they can contact FreshLens or detective Thomas McDonagh at

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