Bradford resident Cassidy Hilliard, a professional photographer and owner of Hillside Photography, recently did a series of mini winter photo sessions over the holidays and donated a portion of the proceeds to Siem Zerezghi’s family.
Siem died in October after leaving his house early on a Saturday morning and never returned. His body was found almost a week later in a nearby pond.
Each year, Hillside Photography donates to a local charity or cause in Bradford. This year, Hilliard decided to make her annual donation to the Zerezghi family.
“I couldn’t imagine this happening to my family,” said Hilliard, who has two children and a step-son who is the same age as Siem was. “I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, Bradford is a family on its own… whether you’ve lived here your whole life like I have, or you’ve moved here… Bradfordians support one another."
Hilliard had 27 families sign up for her winter photo-shoot sessions, with $50 from each session donated back to the Zerezghi family. Sessions were held at the Pumphouse Gardens on Pumphouse Road.
Maria Da Costa, owner of Pumphouse Gardens, rented the property to Hilliard for her photo shoots and also donated $25 from the fee of each session back to the Zerezghi family.
In total, $2,025 was raised for the family; $625 from Da Costa and $1,350 from Hilliard.
“What happened, it touched every single person in this town… it was really hard,” said Da Costa. “It was our pleasure to be able to help in such a small way… Our family is just glad we can help in any way."
What started in late October as a missing persons case ended in tragedy after the community had spent days searching for Siem, only to discover his body in a pond off the 8th Line and Professor Day Drive.
As the family continues to grieve, the community has stepped up to help support them any way they can.
Siem left behind his three sisters – Ruta, Genet, and Danait – and his mother and father, Kedesan and Andmariam.
“Thank you so much to everyone, the community, thank you,” said Andmariam, Siem’s father.
Siem’s sister, Danait, added the community has been very supportive and noted the generosity from Peter Reali of Reali’s No Frills in Bradford, who helped the family with groceries over the holidays.
Hilliard’s oldest daughter, Emma, went to school with Siem, and associated within the same circle of friends, who were all greatly affected by the devastating loss.
“Emma was heartbroken,” said Hilliard. “We wanted to do something to help support the family… It’s the least I can do for another Bradford family."
Hilliard and her daughter were among many Bradford residents who actively searched fields outside their residence looking for Siem back in the fall.
This is Hilliard’s fifth fundraiser from her photo-shoot sessions. Her last donation in the fall went to local teen Daleyn MacIsaac, who is looking for a kidney donor as she battles a rare autoimmune disease.
“As a town, we need to support each other; it’s the only way we can all work together and be the best," said Hilliard.
Hilliard has been doing photography for over seven years and started with small photo shoots just for friends and family before launching the business full-time.
She is making plans for a Mother’s Day photo-shoot session and will be hosting more fundraisers in the coming months.
“I’m just trying to do my part and continue to make Bradford a place people enjoy and see as a community that will always support its people no matter what,” said Hilliard. “I will continue to support Bradford families going through hard times as much as I can."