'Make A Child Smile'

Story and photo by Lee Hogan

The holidays are about giving and helping those in need. Nobody knows that better than Tracy Stocks, founder of Make A Child Smile (MACS) of Central Arkansas.

This all started for Stocks more than 12 years ago. While going through the Faulkner Country Leadership Institute, Stocks worked in the community, specifically around the Pine Street area, and saw that there were underprivileged children in Conway.

“In that I learned the need,” Stocks said. “I basically started begging people for stuff.”

One of the people she begged was Eveline Rivers’ son. Eveline is the owner of a MACS in Amarillo, Texas. When her son understood what Stocks wanted to do, he put her in contact with his mother.

After a conversation with Eveline, Stocks received the inspiration to start a MACS locally.

The charity started in 2000, helping 75-100 kids in the first year. Since then, Stocks said the numbers have just “grown and grown and grown.”

During the holiday season, MACS does all it can to help those in need in the 501 community. At Thanksgiving, MACS delivers meals to needy families, in cooperation with the Conway Kiwanis Club. For the Christmas holiday, MACS makes and delivers Christmas boxes for more families — something the charity has done since it began in 2000.

MACS begins setting up for Christmas in mid-October, after finishing up with its Au- gust “Back To School,” which is the charity’s biggest event of the year.

The Christmas boxes are sent to families in the community from about two weeks prior to Christmas up until Christmas Eve.

A typical box contains hygiene products, school supplies, a new set of clothing, socks, underwear and a few Christmas gifts.

MACS receives families in the community for Christmas boxes from the recommendations of school counselors, pastors, churches or concerned residents in the area. The families fill out forms with clothing sizes of the children, a list of possible Christmas gifts and other information.

The volunteers at MACS then begin putting together boxes for individual families. MACS also allows for people in the community to go shopping for individual children as a part of the “Christmas Angels” program. People who contact and want to help with “Christmas An- gels” are given information on a child and are allowed to specifically shop for that child.

For MACS volunteers like Jessica Fallen, it’s about helping those in need.

“We like to share our good fortune,” she said. “It’s for those moments when someone walks through that door and says, ‘I got a scholarship to UAPB, I’m going to be a lawyer, I’m going to work non-profit, I’m going to change the world like you did for me.’”

MACS tries to create bonds with the families it helps. The main goal is to make a difference in the community.

Stocks said doing things like giving references for jobs, helping out those in need or just being there for somebody helps her achieve a lifelong goal.

“I have a bucket list and on my bucket list was specifically, ‘Make a difference in somebody’s life,’” she said. “And I know we kind of do that all the time, but you don’t think of it that way.

“I had somebody six months ago send me an email, that had been a MACS kid, and said, ‘I don’t know if you realize, but this is what you did, this is what y’all do. You truly made a difference in my life.’

“And I was like, ‘Bucket List, done.’”

Most of the families that MACS helps are low-income, working families. MACS sees a lot of repeat families every year.

“We’ve watched them grow up, and even though you watch them from a distance, they become like your children,” Fallen said. “And so you want the best for your children. I have no kids of my own, these are my kids, and I will refer to them as, ‘these are my kids.’”

Stocks was adamant that all that MACS does at Christmas time, and throughout the year, is “as funds allow.”

Angel Ritter, another volunteer at MACS, said many opportunities are missed from January to April each year because of a lull in funding.

Ritter also said there’s still a portion of the community that can’t imagine children just down the street from them being in need.

“Just out your back door could possibly be a child that didn’t get enough to eat tonight because the money wasn’t there,” she said. “And people sometimes just don’t realize that. They’ve never experienced it so they can’t fathom it.”

Through it all, MACS still receives many generous donations from many around the 501 that help many in need.

“I think we have an awesome community around here,” Ritter said. “I’m amazed at some of the donations we get from people.”

Those who are interested in donating to the
MACS cause have plenty of opportunities.

King Bingo, located in the old Puff’s building at 2125 Harkrider St. Suite 10, holds a bunko tournament the last Tuesday of each month with all of the proceeds benefitting MACS. The doors open at 6 p.m., and dinner is provided. Play starts at 7 p.m., and the cost is $10. Those not interested in participating in bunko can still donate. A box is set up to receive all donations at the facility.

Donations can also be sent to Stocks Mortgage at 1309 Main St. in Conway from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekdays. Contact Tracy Stocks at 501.730.3336 to make an arrangement to drop off donations. Contributions can also be mailed to P.O. Box 2363, Conway, AR 72033. Monetary donations are also welcome, as well as coupons.

MACS also sponsors an annual poker tournament in the fall to help with expenses for Christmas boxes. (The date will be announced.)

It’s a never-ending cycle for the volunteers at MACS. As soon as Christmas is over, MACS begins preparing for its next “Back To School” bash in August. Fallen and Ritter are among the few volunteers, along with Stocks, that spend close to 25 hours a week, in addition to having full-time jobs, to help with the charity. Although the hours can be taxing, the group wouldn’t have it any other way.

“We’re not just trying to stimulate them by giving them things,” Fallen said. “We truly mean to and intend to make a difference in their quality of life.”