Even before Elizabeth Henry came to Virginia Tech in 2013, she had a mission in mind. Since she was 13 years old, she has inspired her community to unite through her work with Samaritan’s Purse, a Christian humanitarian aid and international relief organization. Their program, Operation Christmas Child, collects donations in the form of shoeboxes filled with small toys, school supplies, and toiletries for a child in need. The packages are then delivered by Christmas day to 130 countries, including war-afflicted areas and places ravaged by natural disasters.

Henry, of Williamsburg, Virginia, a senior majoring in human nutrition, foods, and exercise in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, has personal ties to the project, and uses her story to raise awareness in the Virginia Tech community and across the nation.

“I was adopted from Ukraine when I was 13, and I remembered receiving one of these boxes when I was in the orphanage," she said. "Receiving that box made me feel like someone cared and loved me even though I felt alone. So when I found out that people pack boxes all over the world, I wanted to do it myself. I wanted to give back.”

Since becoming involved with the program, Henry has collected and distributed more than 3,000 boxes — many coming from Virginia Tech students and staff.

Today, Henry is a National Full Circle Speaker for Samaritan’s Purse, traveling across the nation to share her story through radio interviews, media appearances, and in-person speeches.

“I’ve talked to countless people involved as volunteers and box-fillers, and heard so many amazing stories about how reaching out through this project really impacts people, and, of course, it impacts the children who receive the boxes in such a profound way,” Henry said. “I can’t say enough about how I believe in the power of this project.”

The process of making a child’s Christmas bright starts months before December. Students perusing the tables at GobblerFest in the fall may have come across a table for the Operation Christmas Child Club at VT (OCCVT), the organization Henry started in 2013 upon her arrival at the university.

Red and green Operation Christmas Child shoeboxes, along with information about what to include and important dates and deadlines, are distributed to all students who express interest in participating. Henry then takes to her classes, giving speeches and presentations to her peers, and reaching out to other prominent organizations on campus in order to inspire involvement.

Since its inception, OCCVT has partnered with numerous organizations and teams on campus, including Greek Life Women’s Swim and Dive, Women’s Softball, Men’s Basketball, and the Virginia Tech Football team.

“Watching the Virginia Tech community unite behind a cause that can impact so many lives truly demonstrates the university motto, Ut Prosim (That I May Serve),” Henry said, “The kindness and support this community has displayed every year is so touching.” Once the outreach is done, and the boxes have been collected, Henry collaborates with a local church to organize the boxes before they make their way around the world.

Though she will be graduating in the spring, Henry has no intention of letting the project stop in the Virginia Tech community. “I plan to stay involved with the Operation Christmas Child shoebox project after graduation, and will spearhead this project no matter where I find myself," she said. "Many members of the Operation Christmas Child Club at VT have stepped up when it comes to making sure the project continues on in Blacksburg.”

Written by Madeline Sault of Arlington, Virginia, a senior triple majoring in business information technology, professional and technical writing, and English creative writing in the Pamplin College of Business and the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences.

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