Maddy McGuire has grown up with Christmas in the Park, an annual distribution of gifts to needy families of South Dallas.
Invited by other families in the Park Cities, the McGuires began volunteering at the S.M. Wright Foundation event when the now 17-year-old Highland Park High School senior was only 3.
Back then, the distribution served hundreds of people and ran out of People’s Missionary Baptist Church in South Dallas. Each pew held toys for a different age group.
Today, it serves tens of thousands each December from the Automobile Building at Fair Park and provides hot meals, groceries, clothing, household items, and toys to low-income families. A June article in D CEO put the number served in 2015 at close to 44,000, and similar, if not larger, turnout was anticipated for this year’s Dec. 17 event.
In recent years, Maddy’s role has grown: she’s gone from helping pass out toys to leading efforts to provide thousands of new coats for children in need.
“I think it’s just love,” she said of her desire to serve. “I just love being able to share happiness with the kids who need it, especially at Christmas time.”
To that end, she started a new club at Highland Park High School three years ago.
“At my high school there are so many clubs you can be involved with, and I wanted one that could help the community,” she said.
Her father, Mike McGuire, took her to meet with the Rev. S.M. Wright II, president of the foundation and son of its late namesake, a local civil rights icon known for his networking prowess and ability to foster relationships with some of Dallas’ wealthiest and most influential residents.
“I’ve been knowing Maddy for such a long time,” Wright said. “Just to see her grow up and mature and have a passion for the community is just wonderful.”
Over lunch Wright emphasized the importance of providing youths with the necessities they need to succeed.
“I noticed that when we were having Christmas events that the children didn’t even have coats on,” he said. “We asked, and they told us they couldn’t afford coats.”
That observation gave Maddy and HPHS’s S.M. Wright Foundation Club direction.
In its first year with 200 members, the club collected 500 coats, and added a similar number of new ones with the support of Burlington Coat Factory. They also learned a useful lesson.
“The kids obviously responded to the new coats better,” Maddy said.
The focus of the club shifted in its second year to collecting money instead of coats. Using social media and in-person pitches, it raised nearly $20,000, enough to provide 2,000 new coats, she said.
This year the club, which has grown to 300 members, did even better, collecting $22,000 online plus about $4,000 in cash and checks with contributions coming from 135 people.
With Maddy set to graduate in the spring and awaiting acceptance letters from colleges, her sister, Sophie, 14, a freshman who helped this year, is set to lead next year’s collection.
Matt McGuire said he’s proud of his daughters and the community.
“It’s amazing how incredibly generous the Highland Park community is, and Maddy’s friends have just been amazing helping out,” he said.
That help doesn’t end with the fundraising drives.
The McGuires expected about 25 club members to work Dec. 17 at Christmas in the Park, helping children “shop” for their own coats.
“They get to pick the color and try it on,” she said. “They feel so good about themselves, it makes it all worth it.”