Gayron Ferguson Brings Smiles to Places Where Smiles Are Hard to Find
Unless you know a soldier serving in the Middle East right now, you might not realize that lives are still being given for the cause of freedom. In 2015, 47 service people lost their lives and already in 2016, four more have given theirs. While these numbers may seem small, Gayron Ferguson believes that every life matters. That’s part of what motivates him to operate The Hugs Project of Western Kentucky, a volunteer-driven, non-profit organization that sends care packages to U.S. service men and women serving in the Middle East.
Gayron’s oldest son signed up for the Marines and reported for active duty in Fallujah, Iraq back in 2007. It was through reports his son sent home that Gayron became aware of the many military personnel serving this country with very little encouragement from the home front. He started sending packages to his son and to other servicemen who needed support. That went on for a while; however it wasn’t until he made a trek to Oklahoma that his calling was realized.
Gayron grew passionate about helping veterans and soldiers who were on active duty in the Middle East. He drove a 77-year old former Marine to an Oklahoma reunion and it was there that he learned about The Hugs Project.
He brought the idea home to Paducah with the goal of sending 20 to 30 care packages each month. However, within the first year the Paducah operation had received so many names from military chaplains and personnel that they were sending an average of 200 to 300 care packages each month, with another 1,000 to 1,200 care packages at Christmas.
“My original plan was to do this for nine months. I was going to quit once my son returned home,” Gayron says.
His son made it back home, yet Gayron never left his post.
“Me and God weren’t reading on the same page. We weren’t even reading the same book,” he says. “(God) had a whole different idea of what was going to happen than what I had in mind. For a long time I kept trying to find someone to replace me, but God had other plans.”
The Hugs Project of Western Kentucky relies entirely on donations and volunteers. No one earns a salary.
“Part of the appeal of the Oklahoma organization was that all of the money that is donated to the organization goes to do the work it was intended to do,” Gayron says.
One may ask how it is possible to maintain such a highly organized non-profit without the aid of paid staff members. Gayron will tell you that it was all part of God’s blessing and plan for his life.
By the time he took on The Hugs Project of Western Kentucky, Gayron had worked himself nearly to death as a pipefitter and an HVAC repairman. His physician told him if he didn’t quit working so hard he was going to kill himself. Gayron walked away that morning utterly discouraged at the thought of giving up his volunteer work.
That evening he received a notification from the pipefitters union. The message stated that he had worked so many hours in 21 years that he was now eligible for early retirement. Gayron seized the opportunity and retired at the age of 56. This allowed his body time to heal and left him free to commit all of his time to The Hugs Project of Western Kentucky.
“I have never been one to lead,” Gayron says. “But for some reason God put me in charge of this thing and he has helped me with finances and everything. Knowing that I am making a positive difference in the lives of those who are fighting for me to have the freedom to make the choices I am able to make means more to me than money. It’s so nice to lay your head down at night and know that you’ve made a difference and put a smile on somebody’s face in a place where smiles are hard to come by.”
Gayron spends as many as 60 hours each week raising funds, collecting donations and items for soldiers’ care packages. He and his wife Donna coordinate packaging and shipping the packages to soldiers every month. His commitment inspired VUE Magazine to name Gayron a Difference Maker this month. He will receive $250 and an opportunity to win an additional $5,000 if chosen as the Difference Maker of the Year, with half of that amount awarded to the charity of his choice. West Kentucky Garage Builders and Socially Present sponsor the Difference Maker program.
Although the country is not currently at war, there are still active military men and women facing dangerous situations in the Middle East. Gayron and the many volunteers he works with aim to give comfort and joy to these men and women. Donations and more information can be found at www.thehugsprojectofwky.com or on the group’s Facebook page, www.facebook.com/hugsprojectwky .
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