‘Hug Time’: Woman’s clever invention allows family to give grandma safe hugs

"I just missed my hugs."

While hugging has proven difficult amid social distancing guidelines from the coronavirus pandemic, that didn't stop Carly Marinaro, who created the "Hug Time'' plastic shield, from surprising her 85-year-old grandmother with safe hugs from her and her grandchildren.

Marinaro, from Rockford, Illinois, said it was Mother's Day that motivated her to put together the plastic device as a surprise for her grandmother, Rose Gagnon.

"I am really close with my grandmother and my kids are as well," said Marinaro, who added that she used to see Gagnon close to every day for morning coffee. "When Mother's Day rolled around and she wasn't able to physically be with any of her children, grandchildren or great-grandchildren, she was pretty sad."

"We are a family of huggers," said Gagnon. "That's how our family shows love."

Marinaro said she got to googling and searched for long plastic gloves, PVC pipe and a window insulation kit. She spent less than $50 on materials and, with a little help from a local hardware store, assembled the 'Hug Time' in about an hour.

"It was fairly simple and quick," said Marinaro. "I am an artistic person and a very visual person ... I've been making things for years."

Gagnon said she got a call and specific directions from her great-grandchildren to come over for the surprise.

"[They] said, 'Nana, you have to comb your hair and put lipstick on ... we're going to have a video," said Gagnon with a laugh. "When I got there, I was totally shocked. I could not believe what [Marinaro] had done. She knew that I was missing my grandchildren ... I just missed my hugs."

"I knew this was for her, that's why we did it, but I didn't realize it was just as much for the kids and for me," said Marinaro. "We were thinking she needed this, but [we] all needed it."

Neither Marinaro nor Gagnon expected so much local attention from the moment, but felt happy to spread joy during this time.

"It just blows my mind the response that it's gotten and it's done out of love, not anything else," said Gagnon, who is looking forward to a real hug sometime soon. "It's been hard to stay away from my family ... that warm fuzziness in their hearts ... that's what we're after."