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Leah Spinelli, a fifth-grader at Kadena Elementary School, encourages a fourth-grade class Friday to donate clothes, toys, shoes and school supplies to Iraqi orphans.
Leah Spinelli, a fifth-grader at Kadena Elementary School, encourages a fourth-grade class Friday to donate clothes, toys, shoes and school supplies to Iraqi orphans. (Megan McCloskey / S&S)

KADENA AIR BASE, Okinawa — Looking for a way to feel connected to her mom, who is deployed in Iraq, a fifth-grader at Kadena Elementary School decided to hold a clothing drive for Iraqi orphans.

After Leah Spinelli’s mother left for the Middle East in July, the 10-year-old was having a hard time coping. So Marine Capt. Samar Spinelli suggested over the phone that her daughter start a project to help the time pass and give them something to work on together despite the distance.

“My mom noticed that the orphans didn’t have very much clothes and they were orphaned by the war,” Leah said. “They need stuff we take for granted.”

Leah took it from there.

With some help from her dad, Capt. Gary Spinelli, and school counselor Alexis Eykelbosch, she is organizing two clothing drives: one at her after-school program on the air base and another at her school with the fourth- and fifth-grade classes.

Leah is collecting clothing and shoes for infants through 16-year-olds as well as school supplies and toys. Kadena Elementary students can bring in donations until Nov. 15.

She drew up signs with the slogan “Help us to help others” and dropped off boxes at each of the classrooms Friday, explaining the project and asking for donations. She was a little jittery before each spiel and practically ran out the door when she finished.

“I’m outgoing but not in front of all those people,” she said, a little wide-eyed.

Eykelbosch said she’s noticed the fifth-grader has been in better spirits since she began working on the project.

“I still miss my mom a lot,” Leah said, “but I’m not so emotional over it anymore.”

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