updated 11/28/2006 8:20:34 AM ET 2006-11-28T13:20:34

BAKER CITY, Ore. — Need a hug?

Jon Nickell, a 19-year-old college student home for Thanksgiving, stood on a corner one day last week with a hand-lettered sign that offered free hugs. Many downtown shoppers accepted his embrace.

"It's the right thing to do," said Barbara Borello. "He looked like he needed a hug, and I know I did, too. I think everyone should come out and get their hug."

Nickell is the younger brother of Josh Nickell, who was recently sentenced to a minimum of 25 years in prison for the murder of Arthur Gugler, a 77-year-old collector of World War II memorabilia, during a theft attempt.

"The situation with our family is really hard right now," Jon Nickell said. "All the members of our family are going out to be extroverted, to help out as much as possible. As Christians, we believe that Jesus is coming again very, very soon, and we want to show love to all those around us."

Giving thanks
Nickell said he hatched the idea of giving free hugs while away at Walla Walla College in Washington state. "Thanksgiving is a time of giving back to people," he said, "and what better way to give thanks than a hug?"

He said he received a wide range of responses from his unusual offer. Most people, he said, were "open and willing, and going away with a smile on their face," he said. Others, however, declined his hug. Some "accused me of being a Communist, since I'm offering something for nothing."

Nickell said he plans to continue the offer later in the week.

"I want to encourage the people of Baker to take advantage of the season," he said. "This is the season we're thankful for each other. There are lots of ways we can show our love for each other this season."

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