How many hugs can one woman deliver? If you’re Bluffton resident Tory Robertson-Susac, the answer is “nearly 1,000” since 2019.
The Belfair resident is a board member of Hugaroo, a nonprofit organization whose mission is to provide a new stuffed animal, referred to as a “hug,” to children who are hospitalized, have suffered a life-threatening illness, or have experienced significant trauma.
Hugaroo was founded to honor Morgan Harper of Plano, Texas who died at 17, the result of a rare muscle tissue cancer, rhabdomyosarcoma. Her younger sister, Jenna, had observed the comfort Morgan experienced in the hospital having received a new stuffed animal from someone she did not know.
Several years later, the Harper family moved to Charlotte, N.C. For a Girl Scout project, Jenna modeled a program of giving new stuffed animals to hospitalized children. She received a Girl Scout Gold Award for her efforts.
In 2007, the Harpers founded the nonprofit Hugaroo Inc. to continue the program. They recruited Robertson-Susac, an honorary aunt to both Jenna and Morgan, to join the Hugaroo board of directors.
Ten years later, Robertson-Susac and her husband moved to Belfair and recognized the potential of the Lowcountry to sustain the initiative. Through the generosity of the Long Cove Fund for two consecutive years, and Belfair 1811 Charitable Fund, hundreds of “hugs” have been delivered locally to deserving children.
“Now more than ever, children need hugs,” said Robertson-Susac. “The situation has gotten more dire with the onset of Covid-19. Social distancing and at-home schooling are leaving children more isolated. Teachers and social workers are finding it more difficult to identify which children are being abused or need to be placed in foster care.”
True to the expression “it takes a village,” other individuals have contributed to Hugaroo’s success in the Lowcountry. These include Belfair member Jeannie M. Fisher, also a Hugaroo board member, and 10 women referred to as the Belfair Tag and Bag group, who help process and prepare the stuffed animals prior to their delivery. Each stuffed animal has a Hugaroo tag with the sponsors’ names and logo on the back.
Hugaroo serves at-risk children in Beaufort, Jasper and Colleton counties. Some 809 Lowcountry children received “hugs” in 2020. Hugaroo expects to double that number in 2021.
Readers are encouraged to identify programs and organizations that serve children who need “hugs.” For more information, visit hugaroo.org or email Tory@hugaroo.org.
Nancy Vineburgh, writer and artist, is a resident of Bluffton.