Former Hokie to deliver 200 millionth Operation Christmas Child Shoebox in Ukraine

Elizabeth Groff was living in a Ukrainian orphanage when she received her gift-filled shoebox

BLACKSBURG, Va. – A former Virginia Tech student is embarking on a journey to help out the organization that ultimately gave her hope as a child living in Ukraine.

At the age of seven, Elizabeth Groff went to a Ukrainian orphanage after losing both her parents. She eventually was separated from her half-sister too after her sister’s biological father came to pick her up.

Four years after going to the orphanage, Groff now 11 years old, received a gift from an organization called Operation Christmas Child.

“After losing my sister, my whole family, I kind of felt like I hit rock bottom … and that’s when Operation Christmas Child came to my orphanage,” Groff said.

The gift wasn’t any ordinary present. It was a shoebox filled with different toys. The one toy that stood out to Groff was a bright yellow yo-yo.

“I remember in that moment, realizing it wasn’t really about the yo-yo but what it represented to me. To me at that time that yo-yo represented hope. You know, hope of better things to come and hope that someone cared, that I wasn’t alone in this world,” Groff said.

Groff would eventually get the chance to visit America during a field trip with the orphanage’s choir. She spent a week with a host family in North Carolina and a week with a host family in Virginia.

Her host family in Virginia wanted to become her permanent family and two years after the trip, she moved to their home in Williamsburg.

She ended up helping the family’s local church pack and collect shoeboxes for Operation Christmas Child. While picking out gifts, she said a light went off in her head and she remembered the time in which she received her shoebox.

“I told my mom … I want to pack more shoeboxes. I don’t just want to do one or two or three … I want to do more boxes,” Groff said.

Groff wanted to become a Hokie. During her time at Virginia Tech, she created an Operation Christmas Child club. She even got the Virginia Tech football team involved.

(Courtesy of Samaritan's Purse) Groff with VT football team. (WSLS)

She brought the operation to the University of Miami where she went to graduate school. Eventually, she became a national spokesperson for Operation Christmas Child.

Groff eventually found her half-sister sister after receiving a random Instagram message from a journalist in Ukraine who told Groff that her half-sister was looking for her. They were reunited and Groff’s family was able to get her half-sister and the sister’s son out of Ukraine through the program Uniting for Ukraine.

This weekend, she will deliver the organization’s 200-millionth shoebox in the place where it all started — Ukraine.

(Courtesy of Samaritan's Purse) Groff with the 200-millionth shoebox (WSLS)

“For someone who’s received a shoebox myself and knowing how much it meant to me and how much hope it brought me and how excited I was … and knowing there are so many children in Ukraine that need the same hope that I once received was really the reason why I got involved,” Groff said.

Even with the ongoing Ukraine-Russia conflict, Operation Christmas Child has continued their work in the European country. The time and need are far greater than it ever was before.

“These children are suffering and they need to know they are loved, they are not alone, they are not forgotten and that there is hope,” Groff said.

Groff said she’s ready to give hope to more children in Ukraine. Perhaps a yo-yo could do the same for another child as it did her.

About the Author:

Connor Dietrich joined the 10 News team in June 2022. Originally from Castle Rock, Colorado, he's ready to step away from the Rockies and step into the Blue Ridge scenery.