Meet the huggers
Feb. 21, 2011
Walk to the Sample Gates on a Friday afternoon and you might find yourself hugging a stranger. Sound strange? Not to the founders of IU’s Free Hugs campaign.
Inches of snow rest on the ground around the Sample Gates. Three graduate students stand in below-freezing temperatures holding cardboard signs, directed at the passersby.
They’re not begging for anything. They’re offering free hugs.
Austin Toombs, the free hugger who started it all, and his two friends hang out at the intersection of Kirkwood and Indiana almost every Friday, offering free hugs to anyone willing to take them.
“Free hugs are beneficial to everyone who walks by,” says Toombs, a graduate student in the School of Informatics and Computing. “Even the people who do not get free hugs smile when they walk past.”
Toombs started giving free hugs as an undergraduate at Ball State University. When he came to IU in August, he organized a group here and recruited a couple of his friends and fellow graduate students, Joanna Mueller and Grant Carlile, to join him.
While they have more than 70 fans on their “IU Free Hugs” Facebook fan page, Mueller says the quantity of hugs doesn’t matter. It’s the quality that counts.
No hug-filled Friday is ever alike. One afternoon several joggers stopped to give hugs before continuing their run. A campus bus driver sometimes announces “free hugs” over his intercom to his bus passengers. And junior Anita Betbadal says she got a free hug “just because it’s Friday.”
Carlile says people recognize him on campus as the free hugs guy.
“Everyone is going somewhere,” he says about the people that pass him at the Sample Gates. They all have different destinations, but “when they see us, they go there smiling.”