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They’re There for One Another in the Clutch

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Fred Martinez, activities director at the Tustin Hacienda retirement community, knows the power of a good hug.

“As soon as you hug someone, they wake up, they glow,” said Martinez, 35. “It gives them an uplifting feeling, makes them feel wanted. It shows them that someone cares, that human touch is very important.”

The annual hug-a-thon is on.

Martinez was among about 150 people who gathered Wednesday at La Veta Healthcare Center in Orange to celebrate the Orange County observance of National Hug Holiday Week, which continues through Saturday.

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Participants, mostly senior citizens, mingled, listened to country music, heard speeches, drank sodas and took part in free health screenings for high blood pressure and other ailments.

And yes, they hugged.

They slapped each other on the back, patted, embraced and wrapped. Some used one arm, others two. There was the handshake into a hug move. Others bent over wheelchairs to hug the disabled.

Just to make sure everyone got his or her fill, a young woman dressed in a bear suit made the rounds under the canopies at the center and gave out, well, bear hugs.

The event was a simple reminder of the importance of human contact, the power of touch.

“I hug somebody every day, every solitary day. I never miss a hug,” said Naomi Kreidler, 96, of Tustin. “It just make you feel comfortable.”

Added hug enthusiast Leta Johnson, 88, of Orange: “They’re wonderful, honey. If you have to be someplace, this is a good place.”

The event, which has been held at various locations for 14 years, is sponsored by the Hugs for Health Foundation, a Tustin-based nonprofit organization that sends volunteers to hospitals, convalescent homes and other places where the ill, infirm or aged might need an embrace.

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The agency strives to bridge the gap between the older and younger populations through outreach, education and volunteering. Participants use so-called hug therapy to elevate moods and improve health.

The purpose “is to honor, recognize and express our appreciation for one another,” said Jo Lindberg, founder and president of the foundation. “It is our belief that aged Americans are the forgotten segment of our society.”

Lindberg this week is helping 27 hug centers in 17 states organize public embraces. Nationwide, 21,500 hugs have been pledged to the event.

Lindberg started the foundation in 1989. This is the second year in a row that the Orange County event has been held at the health center in Orange.

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