Mom Spreading Love Seeks Volunteers for Free Hug Booth at Ferndale Pride Festival

Mom Spreading Love Seeks Volunteers for Free Hug Booth at Ferndale Pride Festival

(Lara Mossa, April 23, 2019)

UPDATE: Volunteer hug positions filled up quickly after being announced, but there are many other volunteer opportunities available. More info is available at

FERNDALE, MI – Not everyone feels accepted by friends and family when they come out as gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender.

But that was not the case for 28-year-old Mariah Pfleger who grew up in Pleasant Ridge but now lives in Washington DC.

“Growing up in this neighborhood allowed her to feel comfortable in her own skin and come out to me in high school,” said her mother, Liz Pfleger. “I just feel that my daughter had a lot of support when she was young and not everyone has that luxury. I want the gay community to know there are people out there who care and are there for them.”

That’s why Pfleger is giving free hugs at the upcoming Ferndale Pride festival which takes place June 1 in Downtown Ferndale. The festival is a celebration of the LGBTQA community, complete with resource tables, vendor booths, concerts, speeches, a Rainbow Run, a marriage ceremony and more.

Pfleger will be there, giving away free hugs.  “If people need a hug, they come to us and regardless of who they are we’ll give them a hug,” she added. “More than that will be the availability for someone to talk to – someone to listen and someone to just be present in the moment for those people who need it.”

She and other volunteers will wear bright orange T-shirts with the words “Free Hugs We Care” on the front and “You Matter” on the back. Pfleger chose the color orange because it signifies healing on the LBGT flag.

Pfleger is proud of her daughter who works as a marine biologist and has a long-time partner. It breaks her heart to think of children who are stifled in following their dreams because of parents who reject them.

“A lot of kids, especially when they come out are told to leave their homes,” Pfleger said. “They don’t have support. I’ve heard a lot of these stories. I think it’s just important to show we’re there for them.”

Local businesses are helping to make the hugs happen.  The Candle Wick Shoppe in Ferndale is a main sponsor for Ferndale Pride, and they’ve offered space for Pfleger and her crew. Volunteers in the orange t-shirts that day will receive a discount there.

Jim Shaffer and Associates covered the cost of printing the shirts, and will have their Operations Manager Gina Shaffer Jones (Jim’s sister) among the people-huggers.  They have also been a longtime supporter of Ferndale Pride.

“Liz posted the idea of doing the free hugs on Facebook and we had already signed up to be a sponsor. So, it made sense for us to join forces to love and support our Ferndale community. I personally jumped on board with Liz to assist in the free hugs, because, as human beings, who doesn’t love to be loved?”

Mariah feels the love from over 500 miles away.  “I couldn’t be more proud of my mom,” she said.  “I was incredibly lucky to have such an open and accepting mom and I am so happy that she is extending the same comfort to others that she always provided to me.

Pfleger is seeking volunteers to give free hugs and empathy. So far over 70 people have expressed interest. Volunteers will work two hour shifts from 1pm to 10pm.

For more information on Ferndale Pride and to sign up visit

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