Free hugs kick off R U OK? Day on the Wollongong foreshore on Thursday morning

Dee Milenkovic and Vicki Clare offered hugs to everyone out early on sunny Friday morning at Wollongong Harbour. Picture: Greg Ellis.
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Dee Milenkovic and Vicki Clare offered hugs to everyone out early on sunny Friday morning at Wollongong Harbour. Picture: Greg Ellis. .

It is R U OK? Day and Wollongong’s Dee Milenkovic and some friends such as Grant Plecas, Adrian Panozzo and Vicki Clare have been out early since 7.30am offering free hugs to anyone who walks by.

Even the Police were asked the question and offered a free hug near Levendi at Wollongong Harbour where the huggers are embracing anyone who wants one until 10,30am.

Their location is easy to see with 17 helium blue balloons above a table in memory of the late Jessica Tolhust on what would have been her 17th birthday.

Thursday’s hug-a-thon was held in Jessica’s memory. She lost her life as a result of teenage bullying. Ms Milenkovic was recently involved in an event in the mall to raise awareness. 

Her parents were in Maitland for work and Ms Milenkovic said she was driving there after her morning of hugging on the foreshore to give them a big hug and ask them if they are okay.

Mr Panozzo came straight from shift work at the steelworks to join in after seeing the free hug event on social media and in the Illawarra Mercury.

“My dad Antonio passed away last week and we had his funeral two days ago. He wasn’t a hugger but towards the end I was able to give him hugs. Today in honour of him I am spreading the love and offering hugs to people,” he said.

Brad and Sharon Nielson were out walking their two dogs and said it was a pleasant surprise to be greeted in such a friendly away.

They hoped it encourages more people to welcome strangers with a smile while they are out on their daily walks..

A lady named Dana was walking past and was delighted to be offered a free hug on her birthday.

It is the second time Ms Milenkovic has held the event on R U OK? Day and with such a warm reception is planning to do it every year.

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