NATICK, Mass. - When a military service member is hospitalized for an unexpected illness, disease or injury, it can be a difficult and stressful time for the family. Not only are they often far from home and away from familiar surroundings, they also worry about the health of their loved one.

Dr. Marilyn Freeman, recently serving as the Director of the Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center, decided to find a way to help. Working with a group of volunteers from the Natick Soldier Systems Center, she created the "A Touch of Home" project.

The project will provide recovering war fighters within or near the community with comforting, hand-made shawls and lap-robes to show support and recognize their unselfish and heroic sacrifices.

"This effort is based on projects going on around the country in which knitters and crocheters make and deliver 'prayer shawls' to show their love and support to those in need in their communities," Freeman said. "I often give my 'prayer shawls' to friends in the hospital, to friends and family recovering from illness, and to friends and family (who) have lost loved ones. I tell them that when they wear the shawls, they can think about my arms folding about them to provide some additional warmth and comfort when they need it."

The first official meeting took place Feb. 17, 2010, in Freeman's office, and the group met regularly every Wednesday afternoon to create enough shawls to donate not only locally, but also to the new Warrior and Family Support Center at Fort Sam Houston, San Antonio, Texas, home to Brooke Army Medical Center. The project was open to all NSSC employees, and volunteers who didn't know how to knit were given instruction by other participants.

"It was open to both those (who) had skills and to those (who) didn't, but had an interest in helping out," said Kristine Isherwood, so one of the participants who accompanied the shawls to the Fisher House in Boston on Aug. 5.

The 35 shawls came in all shapes and sizes from which families could choose. Another shipment of shawls was delivered to San Antonio over the July 4 holiday weekend.