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Staff Sgt. Tony M. Lindback, Associated Press
Army soldiers hand out humanitarian aid, collected by the Barnes family, at a school in Mullah Fayad, Iraq.

When Donna Barnes saw a photo of a smiling Iraqi child sitting in a new wheelchair, the significance of her family's donations hit home.

"It was real poignant," said Barnes, mother of Sgt. Nathan Barnes, 23, a Utah soldier killed in Iraq in July.

"It makes it a little more real to us to see their joy in what they've found," she said Wednesday.

Her family and others in American Fork collected and donated enough items to fill a 40-foot shipping container, which was sent to Rushdi Mullah and Yusifiyah, places where Barnes served in Iraq.

There were sewing machines, book bags, newborn kits, personal hygiene items, food, toys, clothing, school supplies and wheelchairs.

"It's just been a release for us to do this," Barnes said. "It's helped with our grief. It's helped give purpose to what happened to Nathan. It's been really gratifying to see the response of people caring for other people."

After Nathan's death, the Barnes family asked people to donate money to charity to honor their son instead of sending flowers.

"Nathan was very concerned about the children of Iraq," Barnes said. "We knew that we wanted to do something that way, and we were concerned about fellow soldiers."

A family friend, RoseAnn Gunther, came up with an idea to send donations to Iraq and agreed to lead the project. About $13,000 quickly arrived.

"We had way more money than anyone would have ever spent on flowers collected," Barnes said.

The response on the other side of the world was even more humbling for the family.

On March 27, 1st Lt. Casey Zimmerman of Santa Barbara, Calif., and others helped distribute the goods to more than 1,500 people at a school in a poor community in Mullah Fayad.

"I made a point at the beginning to convey who Nathan Barnes was, how he died, and what kind of loving family and country he belonged to," Zimmerman said in a statement released by the U.S. Army.

The shipment impressed members of the Iraqi Army.

"A soldier who came from thousands of miles away and was killed here. His family spends money to rebuild this area," Brig. Gen. Ali Jassim Muhammad Hassen Al Frejee said in a statement. "We have to respect that."

Barnes said she's received letters from her son's former captains saying how the gifts changed people's hearts.

"They see the soldiers are not just people who do war on them but people who help them," she said.

There was one gift that had many children puzzled: a Frisbee.

"They thought it was a serving plate, so we had to engage with the kids for a few throws until they got the idea," Capt. Michael Starz of Pittsburgh said.