By Brette Reiman

Local nonprofit HUGS St. Johns expects another busy school year providing emergency food, clothing, school supplies and more to hundreds of St. Johns County children-in-need. Founded in 2009, HUGS (formerly Hugs Across the County) works closely with St. Johns County school counselors, as well as nonprofit partners like the Betty Griffin Center domestic violence shelter to provide children-in-need with basic necessities, from food to shoes to toiletries. 

According to Jessica Gamble, child advocate with the Betty Griffin Center safety shelter, “The emergency clothing bags from HUGS help provide a sense of normalcy for the children, and ease the difficult transition into our shelter by meeting some of their most basic needs.”

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This year, HUGS expects to pack emergency clothing bags for more than 500 local children who face poverty, homelessness or domestic violence. Each bag includes five to seven outfits, new underwear, new shoes, full size toiletries and school supplies so that children can attend school with dignity.

“Each year in the St. Johns County School District, approximately 800 students are identified as homeless per the McKinney-Vento Act. Some of the many priority needs of identified students are clothing and hygiene supplies,” said Michael Israel, St. Johns County McKinney-Vento Liaison. “HUGS St. Johns has been a huge support in meeting the needs of hundreds of students each year. Their thoughtfulness is shown in each package they provide, and the sense of pride that our identified students have when they can put on a fresh set of clothing items each day is invaluable.”

HUGS clothing program volunteers help organize its clothing warehouse, pack emergency clothing bags for kids referred by counselors, or deliver clothing bags to local schools. HUGS also appreciates when neighbors, book clubs, and civic groups coordinate clothing, toiletry or food drives for the organization.

“As an all-volunteer organization, we cannot do what we do without the support of the incredibly huge-hearted St. Johns County community,” said volunteer clothing program coordinator Karen Burke. “Our tiny team especially needs more volunteers to help us with our very busy and impactful clothing program — even just one to two hours each month is a huge help!” 

For more information about volunteering or donating, HUGS can be reached at or (904) 580-4847. Visit or follow on social media for more information.

Photo courtesy Brette Reiman

HUGS board member Martine Smith, who is with the St. Johns County School District.

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