Free hugs help to spread the love
JACOB Stone went to Ballina to spread some Christmas cheer on the weekend while his mum went shopping. But the 17 year old from The Channon ran into trouble with the Ballina Fair Centre Management and was asked to leave. Jacob is one of thousands of people around the world who have joined the 'Free Hugs' campaign, inspired by a Sydney man by the name of Juan Mann. "He was living in London and when he came back to Sydney, there was no-one at the airport to welcome him back. He says on his website that he felt like a tourist in his own home town," Jacob said. "He got some cardboard and a Texta and made a sign saying 'free hugs', then found the busiest intersection in the city. "For 15 minutes no-one cared. But then the first person who stopped was an old lady who tapped him on the shoulder and said her dog had died that morning, and it was a year since her daughter died in car accident," Jacob said. The woman told Juan she needed a hug because she was feeling down and when she left, she was smiling. Since then Juan Mann has been taking to the streets giving hugs and making people smile. When he was banned by a Sydney council for hugging in a shopping plaza, a petition with 10,000 signatures was presented to the council and the ban was removed. Since then he has appeared on 'Oprah' and featured in a music video for the band 'The Sick Puppies'. The free hug phenomenon has spread all over the world and people are taking to the streets and uploading videos onto YouTube to share it with others. Jacob Stone said he made his 'Free Hugs' sign at Lennox Head last Saturday. (December 15) "It was really, really good. As soon as I held it up, five or six people said 'Yeah, hugs'. I hugged up to 30 people in 20 to 30 minutes," he said. The next day he went to Ballina. Jacob said that he first went to Ballina Central shopping centre where he hugged 10 to 15 people in the supermarket and another 10 outside. "People were open and welcoming. It seems that elderly people really like the hugs," he said. "There were no hassles, a security guard saw me and there were no problems." After that Jacob and his mum had to go to Ballina Fair to get some clothes. Jacob says the Manager of Ballina Fair came up to him and asked if he had permission to be here. After a short altercation Jacob was asked to leave and take his hugs to the main street of Ballina. Katrina Warren is the Manager of Ballina Fair Shopping Centre. She said she wasn't working at the time, but confirmed that her weekend manager had asked Jacob to leave. "The shopping centre acted on a customer complaint that he was 'freaking children out'," she said.