The shiny yo-yo
Gift provides hope for Ukrainian youth
By Kris Leonhardt
CENTRAL WISCONSIN – As a young child living in a Ukrainian orphanage, the gift of a simple shiny yo-yo changed her life, and now Elizabeth Groff travels the globe telling the story of that gift.
Working as a spokesperson, Groff came to central Wisconsin Oct. 7-9, sharing her story of hope, making stops in Abbotsford, Marshfield, Plover, Tomahawk, and Wausau.
“I was born and raised in Ukraine until I was 13 years old. When I turned one, my father passed away and my mom unable to support us financially, packed us up, and moved us to a nearby village to live with our grandparents,” recalled Groff.
“Two years down the road, my mom had my little sister Tanya, and she just didn’t know how to deal with the grief and the responsibility. So she turned to alcohol.
“Me being the bigger sister, I had to step up and take care of my little sister. I had the responsibility to provide a better future for her. I knew she deserved better. She became my world. So I took her by the hand, and we ran away. We found ourselves in an orphanage.”
Groff was just seven years old at the time.
“Two years later, Tanya’s father showed up and said that he was going to take her home and that since I wasn’t his daughter, he couldn’t take me home with her. So as I watched her walk away, she looked back at me and the only thing I could see in her eyes was joy and happiness. But the one thing I felt was heartbreak. And I couldn’t show her that because I knew that she deserved better. I knew that was the best I could do for her so I let her go. And in that moment, I felt hopeless. I felt lost. I felt alone,” Groff explained.
“And I just hit rock bottom. And that is where Jesus met me. He didn’t leave me there. He showed me that he loved and cared for me through a simple gift through a shoebox. When I opened my box, it was filled with so many different toys, but the one thing I remembered the most was a shiny yo-yo. To me that yo-yo represented hope to me, represented love and care; someone cared enough to send me this box and I instantly felt Jesus’ love.”
In May of 2007, Groff was adopted by an American family, who was involved in Operation Christmas Child.
“That year, my family decided to back five shoe boxes. As we were shopping for the items to fill the boxes with, I realized that I received one of the boxes back in Ukraine. And with the help of family and friends that year, we decided to fill 100 boxes and instead we filled 150. From that year on, I had this passion in me to fill more boxes and share the love that I once received through this simple gift,” Groff explained.
Samaritan’s Purse: Operation Christmas Child helps children in need around the world through gift-filled shoeboxes packed with toys, school supplies, and hygiene items.
During national collection week – Nov. 14-21 – central Wisconsin residents can bring filled shoeboxes to multiple drop-off locations, including: Zion United Methodist Church, 2106 N. Peach Ave., Marshfield; Community Alliance Church, 111 Division St., Withee; Bethlehem Lutheran Church, 316 Buehler Ave., Nekoosa; Faith Reformed Church, 1321 32nd St. N, Wisconsin Rapids; Woodlands Church, 190 Hoover Ave., Plover; The Village Church, 1485 Village Way Dr., Mosinee; and Bible Truth Chapel, 1600 N First Ave., Wausau.
For more information, visit samaritanspurse.org/occ. Those who prefer the convenience of online shopping can visit samaritanspurse.org/buildonline.
Groff has since been reunited with her sister. Both now live in the same area in Texas, where Gropp is employed in the public health field.