Mississippi teen creates hugging booths allowing families to hug their loved ones safely

Embracing family members through hugging booth
Embracing family members through hugging booth(WLBT)
Published: Dec. 13, 2020 at 6:33 PM CST|Updated: Dec. 13, 2020 at 9:39 PM CST
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YAZOO CITY, Miss. (WLBT) - Christmas has come early for residents at Martha Coker Senior Services in Yazoo City.

The gift they’re receiving is the opportunity to hug and touch their family members for the first time since the pandemic.

It’s a warm and emotional embrace that Gale Hilderbrand said has been in the making for more than eight months.

“We’ve been looking for this and been begging for it for a long time,” said Hilderbrand, whose mom lives at the facility. “That’s mama. I’m here baby girl so that’s special, that means a whole lot.”

When news spread that residents can now embrace family and friends through a hugging booth, Kathleen Griffin began crying tears of joy.

On Saturday, she had the chance to see and hold her youngest son.

“I haven’t hugged him in six weeks, and he’s my baby,” said Griffin, who lives at Martha Coker Homes.

Since the start of the pandemic, those who have family members at the facility could only have window visits with their loved ones.

While they made it work, they were still yearning for that physical touch.

Hilderbrand said being away from her mom for so long made the warm and long hug even more special.

“Me and mama have always been there, we’ve always hugged each other, we’ve always been with each other, so it’s been rough on all of us,” she said.

This was all made possible thanks to 17-year-old Cooper Williams.

The Madison County teen built and donated the hugging booths as part of his Eagles Scout Project.

After seeing what families were going through in light of the pandemic, Williams said he knew he wanted to lend a helping hand.

“That made me really happy to see them,” Williams expressed. “To see all of the emotion that it brought them and how happy it was just for them to be able to touch them.”

“It’s amazing,” said Stayce Allen, life enrichment director at Martha Coker Senior Services. “It’s just been so moving and so touching, in a time that could’ve been so drastic and so depressing to where it’s been uplifting and something they look forward to.”

Each building at the facility has its own hugging booth.

To use them, all family members have to do is call the main office to book their appointments.

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