Volunteers distribute pizza, cookies to the needy

Free hugs, anyone?

Free hugs, anyone?

A Red Deer businesswoman wants others to give, starting with arms wide open.

For the last five years, Michelle Walker, owner of Inhale Oxygen Bar, has hit the streets and shelters running with donations of what she calls “pick me up baskets” filled with some essential products.

This year, she took to Facebook to solicit donations in order to feed the needy in the city.

Earlier this week, Walker and volunteers from Synthetic Productions distributed 36 donated pizzas, drinks and cookies — provided by various businesses and organizations — to the homeless in shelters and on the streets.

Walker said people cried in their arms.

“We offer free hugs,” she said. “I thought people would be apprehensive about it and it was the total opposite. Even the guys were hugging the guys. It was so neat to see. We hear people cry, people laugh.”

Walker takes donations on her business’s Facebook page and the Red Deer Food Bank helps, too.

They are calling the program the Inhale Oxygen Bar/Synthetic Productions Feed The Need program. It will run once a month in the city. One month they could donate sandwiches while another hey could donate baskets.

Next September, she would like to get the local schools involved.

“We’re Canadians,” said Walker. “This is what we are meant to do. I just don’t get people will turn a blind eye on it and don’t help. They are willing to help people in Africa but it’s in your backyard where you need to help. Help your community, support local.”

To help out, contact Walker at Inhale Oxygen Bar on Facebook.

Red Deer’s point in time count on Oct. 16, 2012, revealed a total of 279 people were homeless. The city’s next homeless count will be conducted in October.