Marines give to Uncle Shawn's Hugs

Gift giving warms many hearts during the holiday season, but few experience it like Dawn Martin.

Every year, Martin boards the Marine Corps' Toys for Tots train to distribute warm blankets to needy children around New York, and by doing so Martin honors the memory of her son.

Martin's son, Shawn, was killed in action while serving in the Marine Corps in 2007. After seeing how many needy children the Marine Corps serve every December, Martin decided she'd give them something in her son's name.

The result was Uncle Shawn's Hugs, which this year will be distributing blankets from the train for the third time. Though Martin, her friends and family do work all year round, the organization also holds blanket cutting events when community members are invited to help come make blankets.

The last one at the Elsmere Fire Department drew nearly 100 people.

It's becoming a community event, said Martin, adding that more than half the cutters were children themselves. "It's really heartwarming to me to see children helping children."

When the Marine Corps League saw what Martin was doing with Uncle Shawn's Hugs, they felt compelled to step in with a donation, said Commandant Thomas DeMeo, of the Captain William Dale O'Brien Detachment of the league, who recently handed Martin a check from the organization's fund.

The $600 donation will help the foundation get started on purchasing materials for the next round of blanket making.

In the future, Martin said she'd love to get the program involved with area school districts, so blankets could reach a wider range of needy children.

"Not all the children can come to the train," she said.

But this year Uncle Shawn's Hugs will distribute 500 blankets on several stops from the Marine Corps Toys for Tots train, making a warmer and happier holiday season for children from Albany to Plattsburgh. That's the amount they handed out in the past two years combined.

As far as the 2011 train, Martin hopes the program will have continued success. As long as she can get one more blanket made than they did this year, she'll be happy.

"That's all I ask for, is to make one more child warm," she said.""

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