CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WBTV) - Elle Erickson is on a mission to help us feel happy, to connect with one another. The journey starts with a hug.
Even with construction noise, if you were anywhere near Trade and Tryon streets in Charlotte Thursday at lunch, you heard her.
“Are you hug deficient," Erickson said. “I’ve got hugs, free hugs. Gluten Free, 100 percent organic, free hugs,” she asks passersby through a mini-megaphone.
Erickson, founder of The Booth Fairy Project, calls gatherings like this, “Bliss Mobs”.
“People need human connection and they’re deprived of it. It just makes them happier and then that spreads on to the next person. It’s like a ripple effect of love and happiness.” Erickson said as she smiled and went to hug the next person.
Elle was back in familiar territory. Her “free hugs” have been embraced in cities all over the country. She once called Charlotte home, and she still calls North Carolina home.
Her mission is to organize others to do exactly what she’s doing in cities all over America. As the sun starts to brighten the streets of uptown, people also seem to warm up to the concept of hugging strangers.
A photographer takes her picture and gets a hug. Erickson placed a "free hugs” sticker on his jacket.
“We need love ambassadors like you in the world to keep this thing going,” she tells him. “He’s going to hug it forward!”
Erickson has been at this for some time, and she’s got skills that disarm people. They come at her with open arms. One man got his hug, then wanted a photo with Erickson.
“Get me a picture,” he says to a woman walking with him.
“Hey if you took a picture, you’ve got to have a hug,” Erickson says to the woman.
She’s even got a way of making the naysayers smile.
“I got gluten free hugs over here! ‘High-fives’ if you’re not a hugger,” she says, making eye contact with a man who was clearly not interested.
“No? Well, I like your smile,” she said to him.
He smiled back at her.
As I watched 40, maybe 50 people in about 20 minutes get hugs, I wanted to try it. But I’d seen the professional have people say, “no thanks.”
“I just got rejected,” I told her.
“There’s a gamut of emotions that come along with this work," she told me.
Work. Elle Erickson is very serious about her work.
She spends countless hours in nursing homes with residents who don’t have many visitors. Erickson and her bliss mob of volunteers bring gifts and leave the elderly they visit still humming the songs they sing to them.
Back on Tryon she’s encouraging me not to give up.
“Just keep smiling. It’s going to happen. Just watch, it is going to happen,” she insisted.
I held up my “Free Hugs” sign again.
Moments later a woman approached all of us.
“I need a group hug,” she said moving toward us.
We hugged, for a while. Erickson insists on real hugs.
“Eight seconds at least. You’ve got to try and hold on. It takes a while to really get the effects, those endorphins, to kick in," she explained. “Even if people don’t participate, I can tell they’re really moved by seeing this by the looks on their faces. People need to see this kindness."
“I know this is meant to be my life’s work,” she said.
For Elle, there is also a serious side to this.
“At my travelling booth, I have people open up to me. I help people kick bad habits, like smoking,” she said. “I encourage people. This is about healing them, and in the process, I’m being healed as well."
Erickson has enough people who believe in her, The Booth Fairy Project is supported by people who donate to her Patreon page.
I spoke to a man who got a long hug from Elle.
“Did you need that today?” I ask him.
“I really needed it. I’ve been a little stressed out at work, so it was a little bit relieving,” he said with a gentle smile.
Erickson seems to be a happiness magnet. Out of nowhere a blogger appeared.
“I’m going to write about you for my blog. I love love, and happiness,” she said as she took a selfie with Erickson.