Free Hugs

Beth Jenkins has sent "hugging you" blankets to people in 25 states across the country. All photos courtesy of Beth Jenkins.

Hugs, science says, are good for you.

That news comes from a 2014 study conducted by researchers at Carnegie Mellon University, in which they found that hugging can help our bodies fight off infections and lower stress levels.

“I started playing around with the idea of creating a clothing brand in 2015, then spent almost two years determining what exactly I wanted that to look like. I officially launched Live Dreams in 2017,” Jenkins says.

In mid-March, with COVID-19 keeping everyone at least 6 feet apart, Beth (Heimann) Jenkins, BS’04, experienced the effects of “touch starvation” firsthand.

“For my family, hugs are essential. And I missed them—never more so than the first time I saw my parents during quarantine and knew it wasn’t safe to hug them. My heart literally ached,” says Jenkins, a former Hoosier volleyball player. “So, I decided to create a tangible way for loved ones to connect, even from a distance. I created a hug in the form of a blanket.”

Keep reading for our conversation with Jenkins—the founder of Live Dreams, an online boutique.

There is a “random act of kindness” effort with these blankets. Can you tell us about that?
BJ: Proceeds from blankets sold on the Live Dreams website are used to create and donate hugs to health care workers on the front lines. For every five blankets sold, I’m donating two. [As of early June], sales from my website have made nearly $5,500 worth of blanket donations possible.

Do you have any customer stories you’d like to share?
BJ: The majority of the sales on my website can be traced back to health care workers who are supporting one another or sending love to their family members. We’ve helped a health care hero send a blanket to her new grandbaby [who] she hasn’t been able to meet in person yet. [And we’ve sent a blanket to] a grandmother who needed some love in hospice.

Jenkins runs the Live Dreams operation, including her own screenprinting studio, out of her home in Fishers, Ind.

What motivated you to launch and continue this project? 
BJ: In mid-March, I’ll be the first to admit that the international health crisis wasn’t bringing out the best in me. My husband Gregory Jenkins, BA’04, MD’08, an anesthesiologist for IU Health, kept reassuring me that it wasn’t bringing out the best in anyone. I needed to change my focus from reading every scary news article to finding some good news. Turns out, there wasn’t a ton of it out there. So, I made a decision. If I couldn’t find the rainbows I was looking for, I was going to be one. I just needed to believe that a random act of love and appreciation could do some good—and it has.

What hospital does your husband work at? What has his experience with COVID-19 looked like?
BJ: Greg works primarily at University Hospital in downtown Indianapolis and, occasionally, at Methodist Hospital. When the cases here in central Indiana peaked, he was assigned to the COVID-19 airway team at Methodist to help support their ICU staff. There’s definitely a sense of “new normal” for him at the hospital, but we’ve felt extremely fortunate that he’s been able to keep working and has remained healthy throughout this whole journey.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?
BJ: Love wins, even from a distance—and we are most definitely stronger together.

Beth Jenkins is just one of many IU alumni who have joined in the fight against COVID-19. This story series is our way of recognizing those who are going above and beyond during this health crisis. To us, they are nothing short of heroes.

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Written By
Samantha Stutsman
Samantha Stutsman, BAJ'14, is a Bloomington, Ind., native and a senior content specialist at the IU Alumni Association.