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Give a hug from Uncle Shawn

When you were hugged by Uncle Shawn, you knew you'd been hugged.

Shawn was a big hugger, he would hug everyone. He was like a big teddy bear, and all of his friends' children called him Uncle Shawn and wanted to be hugged by him, said Dawn Martin.

Martin is Shawn's mother. Her son was killed in action in June 2007 at the age of 30. He had served in the military for seven years.

"When we lost Shawn, we had some wonderful Marines that helped us. They were very supportive, and after a year went by, we were at a dedication for my son and one of the Marines asked me if I'd like to go on the Toys for Tots train, which they were dedicating the northern end to my son that year," said Martin, who lives in Delmar.

That year, Martin was struck by how many needy children were in the area and wanted to give them something of her own. She remembered fleece blankets she'd made for her granddaughter and some neighbor children. A warm blanket seemed like the perfect gift.

"I purchased 25 blanket kits and made around 230 blankets to give out to children on the train. I had children offering to trade the one toy they were getting"which was perhaps the only one they'd get for Christmas"for a blanket," said Martin.

The casual blanket giveaway soon turned into much more: Uncle Shawn's Hugs. The nonprofit organization now hosts blanket-making parties and has wrapped children in nearly 500 blankets over two years. Martin said she usually holds the gatherings throughout the winter at the Elsmere Fire Station, which donates its space for cutting and tying parties, and at St. Thomas Church.

This year, though, she's getting a head start on the fleece frenzy with a basket raffle at Clifton Park Center to raise money for Uncle Shawn's Hugs and to buy the no-sew blanket kits. Organized by Operation Adopt a Soldier, the raffle will take place on Aug. 14, 15, 21 and 22 and tickets will be sold for $10, which offers 20 chances to win.

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