DePiero on the move during pandemic | Local News | –

Posted: November 5, 2020 at 7:54 am

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Photographer, aerobics teacher and Key West volunteer extraordinaire Roberta DePiero was just looking for a way to get a little exercise this summer after the coronavirus shut down the Keys.

Her usual job as an aerobics teacher was gone because the gyms were closed. Her other job selling ads for theater and event programs was shut down because there were no local events taking place.

So, DePiero, who followed her soon-to-be ex-finance to Key West in 1991, started riding her bicycle around town. Joined by a friend, their cycling jaunts got longer and more elaborate.

I started riding my bike just to get exercise. We went to all the tourist locations and took cheesy photographs, she said. Then we started doing scavenger hunts, looking for historical markers. We rode every street in Stock Island, Key Haven and Key West. It took about two months.

Those cheesy photos were posted on DePieros social media pages, leading her to start paying attention to what other local photographers were posting; recording how they were dealing with the town and its business community being closed to visitors. She got the idea of pulling the images together into a book documenting local response to the pandemic and reached out to friend and local photographer Carol Tedesco, with whom she had previously published a 2013 photo book of the Key West Cemetery, After Life: Images From the Key West Cemetery.

The women set a three-month timeline for photos taken between March 1 and June 1, and reached out to other local photographers to collaborate on what was supposed to be a 150-page book, entitled, Isolated Island, The Key West Covid-19 Spring of 2020.

But the images were so spectacular that it grew to 27 photographers and 352 pages, DePiero said. Its a time capsule. In 100 years, people can open this up.

The images range from people getting COVID-19 tests, to underwater shots to pictures of empty stores and a deserted Duval Street. Photographer Kyle Campbell got Federal Aviation Authority permission to use a drone, since Key West International Airport was essentially closed, and took a heavens-view look at an empty city and surrounding waters. Publicist Andy Newman took pictures of the checkpoint on U.S. 1 and a deserted highway. Tedesco, Rob ONeal and Larry Blackburn, all local photojournalists (Editors note: ONeal is the staff photographer for The Citizen), looked at daily life, including crowded food banks and police horses patrolling an empty beach.

But the cherry on the top of the beautiful images is that all proceeds are going to benefit Sister Season Fund, which has been giving grants to help out-of-work employees in the service sector survive the coronavirus shutdown. With a limited edition of 1,000 books, priced at $75, Isolated Island will raise more than $38,000 for Sister Season if all are sold. As of this week, there are only 300 left and can be purchased at

Julie Hanson, Sister Season president, said the non-profit organization has given $1,000 grants to 339 applicants since COVID-19 hit Key West, draining its funds.

Our grants were running out, she said. We had fundraisers, online auctions. We sold a lot of masks. The community really stepped up to help us. Carol and Roberta were two of those people. Were so grateful for that.

Its amazing that my little, tiny idea blossomed into this, DePiero said. This is the biggest thing Ive ever done.

And that is saying something. DePiero has been an active volunteer for a wide range of local, state and national organizations since arriving in Key West. One of her early jobs was executive assistant, then catering manager for the former Holiday Inn La Concha. While there, she was given the task of being the hotels team captain for the new Relay for Life, the annual race to raise money for the American Cancer Society. DePiero eventually became chair of the event, then chair of the state Relay for Life Task Force, a member of the national taskforce, and local chair of the American Cancer Society. She is also past president of the Zonta Club of Key West, helped organize the Mote Marine Ocean Fest for its first six years, and helped start the Anne McKee Artist Fund of the Florida Keys, which raises money for local artists through an annual art auction that gives half the proceeds to the contributing artist, then uses the other half to award grants up to $2,000 to different artists in literary, visual and performing arts fields.

As for how she thinks Key West will come out of the coronavirus pandemic, DePiero feels positive about the recovery.

I personally feel weve dealt with it very well. Its made all of us living here stronger, like after [Hurricane] Wilma, she said. We may be recovering differently but maybe well get a different kind of people coming to town. I think well be alright.

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November 5th, 2020 at 7:54 am

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