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How a big virtual hug aims to help those on the front line of the COVID-19 crisis

'We don't have to just sit back'
Air Hugs.jpg
Posted at 5:00 AM, Apr 11, 2020
and last updated 2020-04-11 05:01:08-04

CINCINNATI — Paula Bussard knows a lot of people are stuck at home feeling helpless these days during the COVID-19 crisis while doctors, nurses and first responders are working extra shifts to help as much as they possibly can.

So she asked herself, how can everyone staying home support all those workers on the front lines? She calls the answer that she came up with “the world’s biggest virtual hug.”

“We’ve got a little man we just created, a little heart with big, wide arms, who’s ready to be deployed to go give hugs to the medical community and our first responders,” said Bussard, executive director of the Sharing Hope Center in Colerain Township.

Not actual hugs, of course. The little guy is named “Air Hugs,” and he’s designed to inspire people to support and encourage all the people who are taking care of the community during the crisis, Bussard said.

The Sharing Hope Center website has lots of ideas about how people can help and express their appreciation. Suggestions include everything from donating personal protective equipment, to purchasing restaurant meals for health care workers to cutting the grass for a neighbor working in an essential job.

The ideas are designed to “keep people busy and active,” Bussard said.

“And just as important as all of that is to let them know that they have a purpose and a responsibility,” she said. “We don’t have to just sit back and let the doctors and nurses and police take care of this problem. Instead, we can also help in addition to social distancing and wearing masks now when we’re out.”

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Paula Bussard

Bussard is launching the effort this weekend in hopes that local faith leaders might make it part of their Easter services, she said.

“It’s just so important that we stand up and move out and walk in faith and walk with hope and deliver messages of encouragement and words of appreciation to those people that are working two and three shifts straight without adequate equipment,” she said.

The goal is to keep the effort going for the duration of the crisis and spread the idea nationwide, she said.

As people become part of the effort, Bussard said she wants them to write to the Sharing Hope Center and send photos so she can document just how big the virtual hug becomes.

“At some point, the record books are going to record all about this horrible, horrific virus and what we’ve gone through economically, socially, personally -- all that we’ve endured,” she said. “I don’t want that to be all the story that’s told.”

Bussard plans to send documentation of all the good deeds to Guinness World Records once the pandemic is over, she said.

“Who knows, we may get there,” she said. “But at least if nothing else, there would be enough people who would have been involved with it that they will always remember the positive things, the good things that they did as well as the time that they spent thanking the front-line heroes.”

More information about “the world’s biggest virtual hug” and how to be part of it is available on the Sharing Hope Center’s website.