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'Hugging booth' created to reunite loved ones with residents at local senior living center

On Saturday, from 2 p.m. - 5 p.m., Solstice Senior Living will host a "Hugs for Hope" event for residents and families featuring the new hugging booth.

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas — Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it's been months since several Texans have had the chance to see, much less hug, their loved ones who live in places like senior living centers or nursing home facilities.

It was just Thursday, when the Texas Health and Human Services Commission released updated guidelines regarding visitations at these facilities. Physical contact though is still not permitted at this time.

As humans, we know the importance and how meaningful something as simple as a single touch can be. So, one local man and the executive director of a senior living center got creative: by constructing a hugging booth for residents and loved ones to safely use during visits. 

Rex Gabriel, who also happens to be a local radio host in Corpus Christi, created the booth with the help of some power tools, plywood and a mission to reunite family members.

"Outside of staying away from people and wearing your masks, what can you really do? There’s not a whole lot," Gabriel said. "The thought of having families being able to have that contact, because it’s so important, really spoke to my heart and I couldn't have it fast enough." 

Michelle Kelm is the executive director of Solstice Senior Living at Corpus Christi. She reached out to Gabriel for help with the hugging booth project after seeing photos of a bench he made for a friend.

"I can't tell you how many times a resident has come up to me and said, 'I wish I could give you a hug,'" Kelm said. 

On Thursday, after seeing only photos of progress made throughout the week on the booth, Kelm finally got to see and try it out in-person. The booth is designed to allow residents and visitors to safely hug again through the clear plastic using gloves that extend from finger tip to shoulder. 

“I am beyond excited and blown away at what Rex has put together for our residents," Kelm said. "He put his heart into it." 

On Saturday, the senior living center will host a special event to officially introduce the hugging booth to residents and loved ones. Kelm said the "Hugs for Hope" event will be from 2 p.m. - 5 p.m. 

To read more about the updated rules and guidelines laid out by the Texas HHSC regarding visits to nursing and long-term care facilities, click here