Hugs Bring Comfort To Local Children

Port Washington Fire Marshal James F. Penrose

The community lent a hand—and a hug—to some of our community’s neediest children on Friday, Jan. 29, at Guggenheim School. By raising funds for the national nonprofit Hugs Across America, Guggenheim families made sure that children who are ill, displaced by a fire in their home or living through another type of personal tragedy would have a fuzzy teddy bear to hug them through the rough times.

Former Manhasset resident Susan Lucarelli began Hugs Across America in 2001 in direct response to the fall of the Twin Towers on 9/11. A teacher in a Manhattan private school, she was tasked to comfort children whose families lived and worked near the World Trade Center. After one child remarked that he “needed a hug,” he was given one of the three classroom teddy bears to hold. Soon the other children made similar requests and the bears were rotated throughout the classroom. Lucarelli recognized the healing that took place when children had something soft to love them through their fear, and Hugs Across America was born.

Today, there is a vast network of regional response centers throughout the nation, including one right here. The Port Washington ambulance and the Port and Plandome Fire Departments carry the bears on their trucks. Bears are also distributed at the Northwell (formerly North Shore-LIJ) Hospital System, the Winthrop Hospital pediatric cancer unit, the Nassau and Suffolk family courts and American Red Cross shelters in Port Washington and Manhasset.

These “teddies at the ready” are incredibly soothing to children who are sick, scared or living through a home or family crisis.Hugsguggenheim021716B

“In my five years as chief I can’t even tell you how many bears we’ve given out,” says Port Washington Fire Chief Brian Waterson. “We’ve found the bears to be a great tool of comfort in a crisis or emergency—whether fire or medical.”

At the Guggenheim Kids Social, students and their parents contributed $5 apiece and wrote messages of hope and care to attach to bears, which were later given to Lucarelli for distribution. The students enjoyed drawing colorful pictures and writing thoughtful notes to the bears’ future owners, even if it was tempting to want to keep the adorable brown and white bears for themselves.

Lucarelli wants members of the Port Washington community to be aware of the importance of the bears to Port Washington children, not just for what they do for frightened and hurt children, but for the chance they provide for our community to do something kind for someone in need.

“Hugs Across America provides an opportunity for classes, schools, churches, temples or individuals to get involved in making a difference in the lives of those less fortunate,” Lucarelli said. “We would like the community to know that we are here, and that they can be involved with helping
us provide comfort to local children in crisis.”

To learn more about Hugs Across America, contact Lucarelli at