Everyone wants ‘Free Hugs’

I must say that although I was beyond excited to start my ‘Free Hugs’ project at the Sydney Royal Easter Show, on Monday April 16th, I had absolutely no idea what to expect or exactly what my strategy was going to be. By definition the two words on my hand written sign represented the meaning of:

Free – adjective
1) provide without, or not object to a change of payment.
2) given without consideration of a return or reward.
Synonyms – changeless, complimentary, costless, for love, freebie, free of cost

Hug – verb (used with object)
1) to clasp tightly in the arms, especially with affection; embrace.
2) to cling firmly or fondly to; cherish.
Synonyms – affection, caress, clasp, clinch, lock, squeeze

Presentation is key therefore I fetched a clipboard and some paper. I proceeded to draw the words ‘Free Hugs’ and was ready to start this experiment. By late morning I walked around the show grounds and decided what location would be ideal. To be honest it took me a few minutes to gain the courage to flip my clip board that was being held tightly to my chest. It was now or never, so with a smile and my hands holding these two simple words ‘Free Hugs’ I offered a genuine side of myself to the rest of the world around me.

What happened after that was wholesome, emotional, and quite entertaining!

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It was a matter of seconds before I received my first hug from a little boy, about 4 years old, then a group of teenage girls ran up to me with excitement, nearby newspaper booth workers came up to me next, then an elderly women, then more children and more teenagers, people in wheelchairs, two firefighters, show ground workers and security volunteers, and it wasn’t about to stop as long as I was willing to hold up my clip board. After ten minutes of continual laughing and hugging, I was overwhelmed at the response I was getting.

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Comments made were:
“Let’s share the love!”
“That was a good hug!”
“Good job, keep it up!”
“Free Hugs, this is awesome!”
“Great idea!”
“I’m so hungover, you’re the best part of my day!”
“You’re so good at this!”
“We need more people like you!”

Questions asked included:
“Are we on candid camera?”
“Why are you doing this?”
“Is this a trick?”
“Did you loose a bet?”
“Is this some sort of experiment?”

It was surprising to most when I informed them that I was doing this just for fun! Of course there were special moments that are just too good not to share so here are my top 5 Special Huggable Moments.

1) At the beginning of this adventure I was thrilled about how enthusiastic the people from Sydney were towards my random act of kindness, particularly the groups of teenagers who decided to spend a girls or friends day out at the Sydney Royal Easter Show. There was this one group of 4 girls who all wanted to give me a different kind of hug. The first walked up to me a threw her arms around me, the second did a swinging side to side hug, the third hugged me like an old friend that she hadn’t seen for a long time and the forth did a run up hug. We shouted out our excitement and had a good laugh!

2) There was a group of physically challenged young individuals walking around the show with their helpers. I made an effort to pay particular attention to them and always hugged those in wheelchairs. In addition there was this fellow who was able to walk on his own but with difficulty. He struggled with his words but was happy to see me coming his way for a hug except before the hug he gave me a big wet kiss on the cheek! When I watched him leave we was doing a celebratory dance with his fingers in the air obviously quite excited about our greeting!

3) My friends Alison, Stephanie and Ellen all caught me in action and it made me laugh when I first spotted them behind a large potted tree with their cameras and cellphones sneaking a piece of the action like paparazzi would. It was extra special to have them there because being away a from home for a month now has been quite challenging and I feel blessed to have such great gals as best friends!

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Ellen Newberry, Myself and Stephanie Tarlinton. These ladies are young leaders in agriculture and set such a great example. Ellen is the ASC Youth Group President and Stephanie volunteers her time with many initiatives including Art for Agriculture and was runner-up for the 2011 Sydney Royal Showgirl Competition. Beautiful Bella’s they are!

4) This one particular group of young adults were standing on the side and I was keeping an eye on them, trying to figure out if they were just watching what I was doing or whether they were scheming some sort plan. Sure enough before I knew it I had three tall boys attack me from all sides and I was in a hug sandwich! The girls took videos and pictures from the sidelines and it was hard not to laugh out loud for a while after!

5) It was always fun to get people come up to me who had heard about what I was doing and wanted to be a part of the action. These highly keen individuals would find out where I was and approach me with an eagerly smile and arms wide open. At first there were two orange juice venders and then first aid response personnel. A young farmer from the dairy stalls was dared to give me a hug and that was funny to see his family watch if he would actually go thru with it. I was caught in many cases where I would turn around and find someone waiting to give me a hug or what started it as a single person gesture ended up as a group extravaganza. I figured my biggest hug was with about 7 kids!

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Bet ya wouldn’t have guessed I hugged a cute police officer too?!

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Natalie and Jocellin with the RAS Foundation. These ladies do such amazing work towards supporting rural communities in New South Wales through special grants and scholarship projects. They had a blast once they learned what I was up to! Royal Agricultural Society of NSW Link RAS Foundation Link

It was easy to see that almost everyone who was able to read my sign gave an immediate smile. Although only a fraction of the people were willing to participate it was comforting to know that hundreds of people walked away with at least a smile and made some sort of surprised remark towards ‘Free Hugs’.

The fun didn’t end there because not only were people excited about the hugs they wanted pictures too! Some of which I posed for and others were candid shots. I giggled when this one young boy said “This is going to be my new Facebook profile picture!”

As I invited all walks of life to share in this special experience called ‘Free Hugs’ I was more than happy to encounter children as young as 2 to grandparents as old as 82. I was hoping to have an exact count of the number of hugs I gave in the two hours that I stood under the beating sunlight. However this was a challenge and I was unable to find a counter so I think it would be fair enough to say that more than 300 hugs were given to city dwellers, rural visitors and international guests at the 2012 Sydney Royal Easter Show! My goal was to make people smile, give as many hugs as possible and all the while have fun! I had not expected to laugh so much nor to have been somewhat physically exhausted. It was a great experience and I would definitely recommend anyone to step up to the challenge and give out ‘Free Hugs’!

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We can all make a difference to those around us! ~ Leona Dargis

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10 Comments on “Everyone wants ‘Free Hugs’

  1. If that just isn’t a beautiful way to meet new friends. Leona, you sprinkle your special pixie dust in a lot of different ways. Try to be a bit more outgoing. 🙂

  2. Wish I was there to watch this Leona!! sounds like a fun time. Hope you are enjoying your trip! See you when u get back to AB 🙂

  3. Hi Leona. This is exactly what we have come to expect from you. You bring sunshine to lives around the world. We are sooooo proud of you. Jim & Dianne

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