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Arigato, Piper!

La Jolla resident Piper Groff celebrated her seventh birthday June 14 with a unique request for gifts: She asked for new items of clothing for boys and girls, ages six months to 5 years, electric toothbrushes and toothpaste.

Piper said she would send all the gifts collected to Helping Hands for Tohoku, an organization that helps those living in temporary housing following the 2011 tsunami in Japan. Her mother, Stacey Groff, explained, “All these years later, there are still children who need clothes and supplies. Their needs change every month and now they need summer clothes.”

Piper Groff, 7, of La Jolla poses with the clothes and supplies she asked for as gifts for her birthday, which will be sent to children affected by the 2011 tsunami in Japan.
Piper Groff, 7, of La Jolla poses with the clothes and supplies she asked for as gifts for her birthday, which will be sent to children affected by the 2011 tsunami in Japan.

The young La Jollan has a strong connection to Japan, and has often visited with her family, which includes her mother; father, Billy; and sister, Jenna.

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“My husband was in the Navy and we lived in Japan for two years and we loved it there, so we made it a family tradition to go to Japan every winter, and then with the girls in the summer,” Stacy said. Her daughter, Piper, connected with the culture from a young age. The blonde- haired, blued-eyed youngster has been in Japanese immersion school since age 2, and now speaks fluent Japanese.

“Everybody there is so nice and I love everything that’s in Japan,” Piper said.

When she heard about the devastating aftermath of the 2011 tsunami that killed more than 15,000 people, her mother said, “She really mourned for them. She had a lot of questions we tried to answer but it was hard to explain to her why all these children lost their parents and homes. But her takeaway was how we could help them.”

Calling Helping Hands for Tohoku “a blessing,” Stacey said it meant a lot for Piper to have an organization to support. Piper said, “There are people (for whom) the tsunami took out their houses and they lost everything, so I feel like a better a person by giving them stuff.”

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Masako Sullivan, founder of Helping Hands for Tohoku, said via e-mail “We always welcome donations to help children suffering in daycare centers and communities. We send supplies with names of contributors (unless they prefer not to) ... so those who receive donations can feel the thoughts, kindness and love from each contributor and know that they are not forgotten.”

The gifts from Piper’s June birthday will be sent overseas and distributed in the coming weeks, just in time for the Groff’s summer visit, so they can see the good their gifts have done.

Piper may have learned her philanthropic approach from her 9-year-old sister, Jenna. With a birthday in December, Jenna grew up seeing advertisements for Toys For Tots around the holidays, and for the last four years, has donated all her toys to the organization.

Last year, Stacey said, Jenna collected 150 toys and was thanked by a Marine Corps commander. “For her, that was terrific. She knew how many kids would be waking up on Christmas morning with toys. It’s become a family tradition, and I’m so proud that that is what it’s become.

“My kids don’t need any more toys, but for the children my girls are reaching, these gifts are helping them survive. If I’ve taught my girls to be good and loving people in society, I’ve completed my job as a parent. ... Helping can mean anything — from helping people in natural disasters to helping people in our everyday lives, such as friends or neighbors. There are so many ways to be better people.”