Do-gooders offer hugs in S.F. 

During the last day of finals week at SF State, Robert Schmidt could be seen darting across campus. He wasn’t late for class — Schmidt was on a mission.

Taking a stance outside the business building, Schmidt stood, arms outstretched, holding up a 97-cent piece of poster board. Passers-by would snicker, some of them stopping as they saw the words — "free hugs."

"No names, no numbers, just hugs," Schmidt said as Mariana Aboyme approached him for the offer.

"People could skip $250 sessions with a shrink if they had this," Aboyme proclaimed.

Inspired by the YouTube.com video that launched the international free hugs campaign in September, Schmidt has joined thousands who think all the world needs is a few extra hugs.

"It just seemed like a good idea," Schmidt said, who has given out hugs on campus three times this semester.

The video, which has launched campaigns from Slovenia to Taiwan, features the plight of Australian hugger "Juan Mann," trying to gain the trust of nonchalant Aussie pedestrians in hopes of giving away a prized hug. With more than 7 million hits on YouTube, the clip was further popularized by the Sick Puppies’ song "All the Same" that plays in the background.

Already featured on Oprah, "Good Morning America" and "60 Minutes," the hugging campaign has finally made it to a city that couldn’t have been more fitting for the cause — San Francisco.

Tracy Vasaturo organized a downtown campaign on Dec. 1, and within an hour, she and her 10 fellow huggers had given out 56 hugs.

"It’s about the greater good for The City," said Vasaturo, whose next campaign will be on Powell Street today.

"I’m just the facilitator."

Using the help of Internet forums such as tribe.net, Vasaturo says the most frequently asked question from passers-by is "why?"

"So I tell them, I just do it to bring a smile to your face and spread love. Most people reacted well, they nod and say, ‘thank you,’ at least if they don’t go for the hug."

Jason "Dolphin" Levitt, also of San Francisco, has joined Vasaturo after seeing the YouTube clip.

"It’s so amazing to give something with no expectations," said Levitt, who recalled once hugging five people at a time and got 40 hugs in 45 minutes.

"We get women, men, young, old — every race. You just have to be careful about how you hug, you want it to be meaningful, but you don’t want to hang on too long, you know."

eeconomides@examiner.com

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A daily newspaper covering San Francisco, San Mateo County and serving Alameda, Marin and Santa Clara counties.
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