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Free Hugs from Atheists

Planning TimeOne week
Group Size1+
Staff #1+
Event DateAnytime

Activity Overview:
This is quite possibly the simplest activity you can do; although you can fancy it up somewhat, at heart all you're doing is holding up a sign and hugging passersby. However, there are some steps you can take to make sure you get noticed. In particular, you'll want to be in a place where between 400 and 3,000 people pass daily. The exact number will depend on the size of your school, or the size of the town/city if you go off-campus. As a particularly simple activity, this can be easily combined with something else, such as tabling, or as publicity before a larger event.

Planning timeframe:
A week should be fine.

This works best when you can get a number of huggers to congregate at one time in one place. If 2 to 10 people in your group can agree on a time and place, that will work. Coordination should be limited to making signs together.

Material requirements:
Signs can be made out of a combination of posterboard, carboard, crayons, markers, construction paper, letter paper, glitter - your imagination is your limit! Check with your student activities office for what resources are available through your university. Making the signs yourself is ideal - this activity attracts attention through a light-hearted yet sincere approach, and more professional signs would be out of place.

The event is a form of promotion itself, but be sure to promote within your group! Use your group email list and make announcements at meetings. See our Group Promotion Guide for ideas.

Suggested Walkthrough

  1. Within your group, find a handful of people willing to participate. Figure out a time and place to dispense the hugs, and pick a time and place before then to make signs. You can designate a person or persons to obtain materials, or everyone can be responsible for bringing their own.
  2. Make signs. Slogans should be short and convey the essence of your activity: "Free Hugs", "Free Hugs from Atheists", "Free Hugs from Humanists", etc. They should be colorful and inviting. Stay away from anything that might imply exclusion or intolerance of others - don't have signs that say, "Free Hugs for Atheists".
  3. This event really doesn't require promotion in the form of advertising. However, you may want to notify the local or campus media - it should result in some positive coverage, which would be especially good for a new group, or if you are in a fairly conservative area. You can write a press release (tips on how to do that can be found here) or simply talk to a reporter. If the press doesn't come, don't worry - at the very least you'll have some positive word-of-mouth.
  4. At the appointed time and place, hold up your signs and hug people!
  5. Afterwards, put away your signs for another time. All huggers can go out for ice cream together.

One of our best resources to find out what works and what doesn't is you - our student leaders! If you've employed a strategy that worked well, let us know about it so other groups can also use that idea. If you've learned a lesson of caution about something we suggest, point out the pitfalls. You can email us at organizer@secularstudents.org!

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