Arcadia Love – The Hug Patrol – Free hugs to share at events.
Contrary to popular belief, The Hug Patrol, our Sunshine Coast based group of self-confessed ‘hug addicts’ started well before that youtube guy made free hugs a worldwide phenomenon.
It was in 2001 in Maleny. I phoned up some friends and suggested we form a group and go out offering hugs to people. Fortunately enough put their hand up and The Hug Patrol was born. We started with a couple of ‘warm up’ patrols in Maleny before landing our first big gig – The Woodford Folk Festival.
Camping at Woodford for the entire six day festival, we became a community within a community up on ‘Hug Hill.’ Every afternoon we would head off in our uniform of stripey pants, screen printed t-shirt and ‘Hug Patrol’ emblazoned cap, patrolling the festival with one question on our lips, “Would you like a hug?”
It was here amongst the dust and the sweat that I think our little band of huggers first came to realise the impact we were having on people. Because we camped together we had time to ‘debrief’ our hugging experiences and some of the stories we shared still warm my heart.
Stories like the woman who had just had a mastectomy and wanted to be hugged on the side where her breast had been removed. There was the young girl who asked to be hugged by a father as her Dad was serving in Iraq and I still remember the look on the face of a backpacker who admitted he had been in Australia for a month and was really missing his family. We gave him a group hug!
The most inspiring moment for me at Woodford was the day we popped our heads into the VIP tent where ABC Radio Broadcaster and author Sandy McCutcheon was ‘gatekeeper.’ That day the festival was playing host to a group of refugee women who had been ‘released’ for the day. After checking the cultural boundaries with the women, our women huggers gave and received some of the most precious hugs I can remember.
Weeks later I received a letter of recommendation from Sandy who wrote, “At Woodford the icing on the cake this year was, without doubt, The Hug Patrol. This extraordinary group of individuals has probably no idea of just what a positive impact they have. I was fortunate to witness the effect they had on a large group of refugee women from Afghanistan. For women whose lives are in tatters, families are scattered or dead, the rare moment of physicality was of tremendous importance. To see the looks on their faces and the pleasure at being held was a rare gift.”
Since that time we’ve been on many patrols – at festivals, markets and special events.
It’s interesting sometimes to see the reaction we receive when we ask someone if they would like a hug. Fortunately for us, most say ‘yes!’ Some are hesitant, but come around with an ‘Aww, alright then’ and others see us coming and beat a hasty retreat however they can. We don’t mind. It’s all about bringing joy to as many people as we can and not forcing ourselves (or our hugs) on anyone.
Our regular visit to a Maleny Aged Care facility is always a treat. One of our long-term huggers, Francoise is a Diversional Therapist there. After one of our visits she wrote to us saying “The Hug Patrol brought a lot of joy to aged residents and staff alike. Touch is really important for the aged, and most older people never get enough of it. In institutions where loneliness and isolation is a sad reality, the bright, cheerful and loving Hug Patrol brings a ray of sunshine.”
One powerful moment happened a couple of years ago at the ‘Doin’ Dads Proud’ Fathers Day event at Cotton Tree. It was coordinated by Lifeline and aimed at honouring dads. From the onset, as we headed off hugging, a few of us commented on the bittersweet feeling in the air. There was celebration, yet there was pain. One hug with one man made it all the more real.
I was first to hug him and noticed he was fighting to hold back tears. Immediately I did what I always do when I see someone in ‘high need.’ I called to the rest of the huggers, “Group Hug!!” A band of us wrapped ourselves around him and stayed there for some time. When we broke away to continue hugging, a couple of our huggers stayed with him. I won’t share with you the story he shared with them but I will say, I believe a few simple heart-felt hugs may have saved his life that day.
We’re always looking for new ‘recruits’ to come hugging. We average one event a month and can guarantee by the end of a patrol your hearts will be overflowing and your faces sore from constant smiling.
Contact Arcadia to find out how to join or if you’d like to have The Hug Patrol at your event: firstname.lastname@example.org, 0427 296 572 or through our facebook group The Hug Patrol.