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At Big Hug Day, Tampa Bay kids attempt to break world record

Kari Wagner and the kids organizing Tampa Bay's The Big Hug met and hugged the cast of the Today show in December. (Today Show)
Published Jan. 17, 2018

A group of Tampa Bay kids aren't letting age get in the way of thinking big.

Not just big, but world-record-breaking big.

About 40 first through sixth graders are behind The Big Hug campaign, which aims to get 12,000 people together at Tropicana Field for one massive group hug on Sunday.

"These kids see the bad things that happen in the world and they try to problem solve it the best they can," said Kari Wagner, who runs the boys and girls volunteer groups organizing The Big Hug.

The current record for biggest group hug is 10,554 people, set in Canada in 2010.

The kids decided to set their goal at 12,000 for Sunday.

"When we first started, we were not sure how we were going to put it all together in a little amount of time," said fifth-grader Samatha Hsu, 11.

But since the summer, the group of 5- to 12-year-olds has steadily figured it out by promoting The Big Hug and spreading love along the way.

They even have a national sponsor: Huggies diapers. Other people as far as Israel and South Africa are celebrating the love on Jan. 21, too, which was deemed National Hug Day in 1986.

Many of the other group hug events got inspiration from what the Tampa Bay kids are planning.

Tampa Bay's huggers took a trip to New York City in December and shared their mission with casts of Broadway shows and the hosts of the Today Show.

When a man detonated a bomb near Times Square on Dec. 12, Wagner said the kids immediately wanted to start hugging people in the city — law enforcement, especially.

The group had been standing outside the Today Show offering people hugs in the plaza when the producers noticed them, Wagner said.

Although hugging Al Roker may have been a first, the group has traveled across the country before to spread its message.

Wagner's group of young girl volunteers are called "Girls in Action" and the boys go by "The Royal Ambassadors."

This past hurricane season, they traveled to Naples to help flood victims by passing out food. They've also taken relief trips to Louisiana and South Carolina.

In addition, The Big Hug Day festivities and T-shirt sales will raise money for St. Joseph's Children's Hospital. The kids are hoping to raise $60,000.

The day will be hosted by WWE wrestler Chris Jericho. There will be food trucks and a slew of special activities as people begin lining up for the massive hug around 1 p.m.

"Nobody is too small or too old to make a difference," said Hsu. "It's just a matter of how you use your actions ... If you believe you really can change the world, you're right."

Contact Sara DiNatale at sdinatale@tampabay.com. Follow @sara_dinatale

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