Benefit Systems, a 401(k) administration company based in Austin, has started a program to put money in the pockets of the homeless there, while also helping them start savings accounts.

The company has designed buttons for the homeless to sell at congested street corners during rush hour. Each month, Benefits Systems will design a new button. Those for this initial month are tied to Jan. 21, which is “National Hugging Day.” These buttons read, “Free Hugs.”

Benefits Systems will give each participant 25 buttons to start out with free of charge. They will get to keep $1 of the proceeds and Benefits Systems will sets aside 50 cents for them into savings accounts. The participants may then purchase additional buttons for $1 apiece. Once their savings account reaches $1,000, they will be allowed to use the money for a rental deposit, clothing or a personal bank account.

Benefits Systems figures that a hardworking participant can probably sell more than 100 buttons a day. The company plans to publish success stories at www.freehugsaustin.org.

Benefits Systems President Bryan Ucker said he was inspired by a movie called “The Secret,” which showed how success breeds success. “Two bucks to become a ‘hug magnet’ is really quite a deal.”

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