Moms And Dads Offering “Free Hugs” At Pride Parades For People Whose Parents Rejected Them

If you were unaware, June is Pride month. The LGBTQ+ community is celebrated during this time, rejoicing in the progress that’s been made while also fighting to get the rights they deserve. Pride parades happen all across the world, and while they are often a joyous occasion, there can be an underlying sadness for some of those in the LGBTQ+ community.

Some people who come out to their parents are rejected for their sexuality, and are left feeling lost or without a family. It’s hard to know that your family rejects you based on who you love, and it’s a struggle that too many have to deal with. Now, at many Pride parades across America, there’s a new phenomenon aimed at helping those who no longer feel welcome or safe in their own family.

Moms and dads across the country have started giving out “free hugs” to people at Pride parades who just need to feel the love of a parent again. Jen Hatmaker, a blogger and author from Texas, posted about her church’s involvement in giving away the hugs and how well received it was.

My beloved little church went downtown to the #AustinPrideParade and gave out Free Mom Hugs, Free Dad Hugs, Free Grana Hugs, and Free Pastor Hugs like it was our paying jobs. And when I say hugs, I mean THE KIND A MAMA GIVES HER BELOVED KID..

Our arms were never empty. We “happy hugged” a ton of folks, but dozens of times, I’d spot someone in the parade look our way, squint at our shirts and posters, and RACE into our arms. These were the dear hearts who said:.“I miss this.” “My mom doesn’t love me anymore.” “My Dad hasn’t spoken to me in three years.” “Please just one more hug.”

You can only imagine what “Pastor Hugs” did to folks. 😭 So we told them over and over that they were impossibly loved and needed and precious. And we hugged until our arms fell off. This is what we are doing here, what we are here for.

The last pic is what you look like at the end of Pride covered in glitter, sweat, and more than a few tears..Thanks to Sara Cunningham and the @freemomhugs tribe for the wonderful inspiration.

Hatmaker and her church aren’t the only ones handing out these hugs. Howie Dittman from Pittsburgh shared his experience at his local pride parade handing out “Free Mom Hugs” and “Free Dad Hugs.” He specifically focused on two people who resonated with him the most.


A handful of us went to the Pittsburgh Pride Parade today, sporting our FREE DAD HUGS and FREE MOM HUGS t-shirts. We gave out hundreds of hugs. Hundreds. Some were super happy hugs. But others were like these two… and there were way too many like them.

Let me tell you about these two.

He was kicked out at 19 when his parents found out. They haven’t spoken to him since. He cried on my shoulder. Sobbed. Squeezed me with everything he had. I felt a tiny bit of that pain that he carries with him every minute of every day. He was abandoned because of who he loves. And on June 9th, 2019, he was participating in a celebration of love when he was brought to his emotional knees by a shirt that said “FREE DAD HUGS” on a complete stranger.

Her story? I don’t know the specifics. But I know that she saw me from across the street. I wasn’t paying attention. By the time she got to me, she had tears in her eyes. She stood in front of me and looked up at me, with a look of sadness and helplessness that I’ll never forget. She hugged me with everything she had. And I hugged her back. She held on for so long, melting into me, and thanked me endlessly.

And I can’t stop thinking about her. What she must be going thru with her family… the ones who are supposed to be there for her no matter what. Who does she go to when she needs advice on love, money or just life? Who does she share old memories with that only her parents would have been there for? What are her holidays like? How often does she hope for that phone call, with unconditional love on the other end? I don’t know her story. But it doesn’t feel like a huge leap to assume she’s lost those who should love her the most and forever.

Imagine that, parents. Imagine that your child feels SO LOST FROM YOU that they sink into the arms of a complete stranger and sob endlessly just because that stranger is wearing a shirt offering hugs from a dad. Think of the depths of their pain. Try to imagine how deep those cuts must be.

Please don’t be the parent of a child that has to shoulder that burden. I met WAY too many of them, of all ages, today.

And if by chance anyone knows these folks, please let them know they can reach out any time they need a surrogate dad to talk to. I’ll be there.


Dittman’s post has been shared almost 250,000 times, and it’s garnered a lot of positive attention from the public.

“You and the other parents doing this are absolutely amazing, their scars may be deep but you impacted and imprinted love stronger than ever. Bless y’all,” Joseph Rodriguez wrote.

“What a beautiful post,” Candace Meadows commended. “I too am willing to give free mom hugs, free grandma hugs anytime. I don’t care what term you go by, or what your princes are. Such things do not matter to me. You do. I promise.”

“Thank you for being there for them and all those who sought your hugs,” K Van Dresar shared. “Thank you for stepping up to be the dad. So sad when a parents love is conditional. I will be stealing this idea….but as a mom.”

It’s heartbreaking to know there are people who are disowned by their family based on who they love, but knowing there are people like Hatmaker, Dittman, and everyone else involved in these events makes me feel like there’s hope for the future.

Would you give out free hugs like this?

Pastor Takes His Own Life, Then His Wife’s Heartbreaking Letter Goes Viral

I can’t imagine what I’d do if my husband ever died. The thought of losing him, or anyone else so close to me is just gut wrenching. For Kayla Stoecklein, she went through the unthinkable when her husband, and the father of her three children, took his own life. Andrew Stoecklein was a pastor of Inland Hills California, and he struggled with mental health issues which led to his death.

Hours after his death, Kayla posted on Instagram about Andrew’s struggles.

Last night, the love of my life, the father of my children and the pastor of our incredible church took his last breath and went to be with Jesus. It wasn’t the miracle I was hoping for but he is now in Heaven with his dad, free of pain, free of depression and anxiety.

He was an amazing husband, he truly made me better, made me feel like the most beautiful girl in the world, and he loved me so deeply. We fit so well together, we were one. He was an amazing daddy, his three boys are going to miss him so much. He had such a unique and special relationship with each of them. He was an incredibly gifted teacher, communicator, and pastor. He was special, one of a kind and will be missed by thousands of people all around the world.

Please pray for me and the boys. I don’t know how I am going to face this, I am completely heartbroken, lost, and empty. Never in a million years would I have imagined this would be the end of his story.

If you are struggling with suicidal thoughts or actions, please tell someone. Please make sure you’re not alone, and please call a friend or family member before you make that irreversible decision. You are loved and valued more than you know! #godsgotthis

Her post went viral, with an incredible outpouring of support coming from the church community and those who have also struggled with mental health issues in their families. Three days letter, Kayle wrote a letter to Andrew on her website “God’s Got This”, and if you can read it without tearing up, then you may not have a heart.

To My Andrew,

It’s only been 3 days. Nothing can take away the suffocating pain I feel now you are gone. I miss every part of you, I see you everywhere. I replay the events of that fateful day over and over again in my mind wishing I could have done things differently. Wishing I could have held your hand one more time and prayed over you and told you how much I love you, how much I believe in you, and how God’s got this too.

You were right all along, I truly didn’t understand the depths of your depression and anxiety. I didn’t understand how real and how relentless the spiritual attacks were. The pain, the fear, and the turmoil you must have been dealing with every single day is unimaginable. The enemy knew what an amazing man you were. The enemy knew God had huge plans for your life. The enemy saw how God was using your gifts, abilities, and unique teaching style to reach thousands of lives for Him. The enemy hated it and he pursued you incessantly. Taunting you and torturing you in ways that you were unable to express to anyone.

Andrew, I want to tell you from the depths of my heart and my pain I am so sorry.

I am so sorry you were so scared,

I am so sorry you felt so alone,

I am so sorry you felt misunderstood,

I am so sorry you felt betrayed and deeply hurt by the words and actions of others,

I am so sorry you were fighting a dark spiritual war virtually alone,

I am so sorry you were unable to fully get the help and support you needed.

I wish I had one more chance to hold you and cry with you and encourage you. I wish you could see the outpouring of love from people all over the world who have been impacted by your story. I wish you could hold your boys one more time and tell them goodbye. I wish we could go on one more trip together, just the two of us. I am not ready to say goodbye. I am so madly and deeply in love with you.

Every part of me longs to be with you. I can’t eat, I can’t sleep, I can’t function and I feel so lost without you. You were my life. I was so proud to be your wife Andrew. I was so proud to sit in the front row and watch you in your sweet spot on stage. I was always so amazed by you, every single day. You could do anything you set your mind to!

You were handy, you made every home we lived in look beautiful inside and out. You were creative, you were funny, you were thoughtful, you were passionate, you had vision, you had charisma, and you were so special. You are irreplaceable Andrew. There will never be another man like you.

I want to tell you that I am never going to stop fighting for you. I will continue to tell our community and our world what an amazing man you were. Your name will be honored and you will be remembered as a hero.

You fought the good fight, and I can only imagine the incredible place God had prepared for you when you walked through the gates of Heaven. I can only imagine what it must have felt like to see your dad again, healthy and strong. I can only imagine how much joy you must feel now that you are truly free.

I wish I could be there with you, celebrating on the streets of gold. But for now, I will continue to live for you. I will raise our boys to be men of God, just like you were. Your name will live on in a powerful way. Your story has the power to save lives, change lives, and transform the way the Church supports pastors.

I love you so much and I will miss you every single day for the rest of my life. When I think of you I will smile, knowing that I will see you again one day. Thank you for 10 wonderful years together. Thank you for giving me the gift of three beautiful blue-eyed boys who all resemble you. Thank you for choosing me, for believing in me, and for showing me how to live fearlessly.

Until we meet again I will cling to my Father in Heaven. He will carry me through every second, every minute, every hour of every day. I read a verse this morning and I know God is reminding me that even now, in the midst of my deepest pain that He has got this.

‘Because you are close to me and always available my confidence will never be shaken, for I experience your wrap-around presence every moment.’ Psalm 16:8 (TPT)

With all my heart and all my love,

Your Girl

The raw emotion and complete faith in God really comes through in Kayla’s post. Since Andrew’s death, she has documented her life as a single mom to three boys, and constantly paid tribute to her late husband. It’s clear that he is still with her in spirit, and that his legacy will live on.

Our prayers are with Kayla, her family, and everyone else who has been affected by mental health issues.

Boy Who Paid The Lunch Tab For Fellow Students Sparks National Debate

When you do something nice for someone, how often do you expect it to become the topic of conversation across the country? Basically never, right? Well, for nine-year-old Ryan Kyote, his good deed at school has sparked a national debate over the school lunch system in America.

Kyote, a third-grader at West Park Elementary School in California, made headlines when he saved up six months of his allowance to pay off the lunch debt accrued by his fellow classmates. He would often use his lunch card to buy students meals who couldn’t otherwise afford it, but this time he wanted to take it further. Kyote had heard of a five-year-old boy in Indiana who was denied lunch, and he knew he wanted to do something.

“He was like, ‘I don’t understand why that happened. Why would that happen to a 5-year-old?’” his mother, Kylie Kirkpatrick told PEOPLE. “It really touched him in a way and he wanted to do something so that wouldn’t happen to his friends. We talked about what we could do to make a difference locally.”

Luckily, Kyote found out that his school policy wouldn’t deny kids food if they couldn’t pay, but they would incur a ‘lunch debt’ which would have to be paid at the end of the year. Kirkpatrick said this debt is a burden on many families. Kyote marched into the school with his mom, and used his saved up $74.80 to pay off the debt of his friends.

“Then we went to his school, walked into his school’s front office. Ryan handed the receipt to the secretary and said, ‘Can you let my friends know that they don’t owe any more money?’ ” Kirkpatrick said. “Then he skipped off to class. This has been really empowering for him … he knows now what kind of power he has and what he’s capable of doing and we can use it for good. It doesn’t matter how old you are, look at what you can do.”

Originally, Kyote asked to pay for the debt anonymously.

“I want them to realize people actually think about them because you’re not just bragging about stuff,” he said. “I want them to feel happy someone cares about them.”

While the story is one that initially makes you feel good, it also reminds you that there are kids starving at school during the day because their parents can’t afford to pay the bill at school. Many people pointed out that it shouldn’t be up to a third grader to cover the costs of feeding his friends. Kirkpatrick agrees.

“I appreciate the passion and I appreciate the outrage,” she said. “Part of me is heartbroken that [lunch debt] is even a thing. It shouldn’t be a problem. But I was also empowered that a 9-year-old boy from Napa, California, has created such a media storm targeting children internationally that are left at school all day hungry. It’s just incredible.”

The story has gone completely viral, with people calling for a reform to the schooling system.

“School lunch debt’ should not exist in the wealthiest country in the history of the world,” Bernie Sanders wrote in a tweet.

Journalist Mark Ames added: “This country is deranged — children who don’t want to starve become debtors before they’re 10. Up to 30 million USA children rely on these school lunch programs just to eat.”

“All these stories about kids using their saved allowances and bake sale profits etc to pay off their entire class school lunch debt in a country where we have billionaires is depressing as hell,” Twitter user @GodisRivera wrote.

“You misspelled…’there should be no such thing as school lunch debt in the richest country on earth,'” another person wrote.

“Children shouldn’t be saddled with debt in the first place, shame on the school system,” someone else pointed out.

“Like, it’s sweet and all, don’t get me wrong, but the responsibility and compassion shouldn’t fall down on his shoulders,” someone else commented. “It’s like they’re ignoring the heart of the issue by letting this kind-hearted kid take it all on.”

Kirkpatrick acknowledged that her son shouldn’t have to take on the weight of someone else’s debt, but she’s happy her son knows the importance of standing up for those who may not be able to stand up for themselves.

“I agree that he shouldn’t have to, but I think that he is a member of our community so he ought to,” she said. “I teach my kids that when you see something that needs to be improved on and somebody voice isn’t being heard, then you get loud for them.”

What Kyote did is absolutely amazing, but he shouldn’t have to give up his own money when this country is so prosperous.

[H/T: People]

What do you think the solution to this problem is?