By Emma Castleberry
Travelers on Interstate 240 near Asheville might have noticed a new billboard with some excellent advice: “Take a deep breath.” There is no branding or advertising on the billboard—simply a message to take a moment of peace in your day.
Funds for the billboard were raised by the nonprofit Booth Fairy Project, led by Elle Erickson. It started with Elle hosting a Free Advice Booth and it has grown into a platform for people to connect with one another and share ideas with the ultimate goal of spreading love and positivity. The group achieves this through events like trash clean-ups and Bliss Mobs, where “Love Ambassadors” stroll around town holding signs with affirming messages and offering free hugs and high-fives. “These are basically like protest but with all positive and encouraging signs,” says Elle. “Small groups gather to spread hope and love and happiness to the people. It is a simple act, but it provides a very powerful and much needed message of positivity and connection.”
Elle started volunteering at a young age with organizations like Big Brothers Big Sisters and Metrolina Association for the Blind. “I have been hooked on a feeling of giving back ever since,” she says. The mission of The Booth Fairy Project became even more vital with the arrival of the pandemic. “Our free hugs and free high-fives became free air hugs, and we had to spread good cheer from six feet away, but people needed it more than ever,” Erickson says. The Bliss Mob also made handmade wooden signs with uplifting phrases and posted them on telephone poles across the city. The wave of positivity initiated by The Booth Fairy Project has already started to spread. “People from other cities are starting to reach out and want to lead Bliss Mobs in their communities,” says Erickson.
Robbin Gagliano discovered The Booth Fairy Project while attending a service at The House of Light and Love Asheville. “I immediately thought to myself, ‘I need to be a part of this,’” she says. “This is what communities need right now.” She started by volunteering at a trash pick-up where she spent more time with Elle. “I knew she was the type of energy I would love being around,” Gagliano says. Since that first event, Robbin has joined Elle for Bliss Mobs and attended several Traveling Trunk Shows, a temporary store where Elle sells eco-friendly secondhand clothing for affordable prices. “Personally, it gave me the positivity that I needed in my life,” Robbin says of volunteering with The Booth Fairy Project. “There is nothing greater than seeing a person light up when they see a Bliss Mob. You can feel the energy spread throughout the area and know that you have made someone’s day and you hope that they pass that on to someone else.”
Erickson says that, although she’s naturally extroverted and really enjoys the Bliss Mobs, they are still out of her comfort zone. “It feels good to challenge myself, though,” she says, “and being a part of the Bliss Mobs makes me feel the most alive and on purpose. I highly recommend leading one and participating in one.”
The Booth Fairy Project is funded through donations on Patreon. The Booth Fairy will host a Traveling Trunk Show from Friday, October 22, to Sunday, October 24, at 81 Broadway Street. There will also be a Bliss Mob meeting in front of the Asheville Art Museum on Friday, October 8, at 4:30 p.m. and a Litter Pick Up meeting in front of Whole Foods Merrimon at 3 p.m. on Tuesday, October 12. For more information or to donate, visit TheBoothFairyProject.com.