Dream center seeking toys for Christmas Mall

By Tammy Keith Published November 28, 2013 at 12:00 a.m.
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NorthStar EMS employees in Heber Springs hold fundraisers each year to raise money to shop for toys for Jayson Jones Fill A Ford, which gives the toys to the Arkansas Dream Center’s Christmas Mall in Heber Springs. Pictured with toys purchased in a previous year are, from the left, Paul Henley; David Banks; Amanda Badders; Traci Tutor, also a coordinator of the dream center; Richie Balmer; and James Tinnin.

HEBER SPRINGS — The Arkansas Dream Center in Heber Springs has scheduled its Christmas Mall for Dec. 14, but more donations are needed to give gifts to hundreds of children, said Traci Tutor, one of the center’s coordinators.

“This is the biggest thing we do,” she said.

Tutor is also an EMT for NorthStar EMS ambulance services in Heber Springs, which raises money for the Christmas Mall each year.

“We go out and buy toys, and that goes into the Christmas Mall,” she said.

The Arkansas Dream Center, New Life Church and Jayson Jones Ford are primary sponsors of the event.

The Arkansas Dream Center, which has several locations in Arkansas, was “birthed out of New Life Church,” Tutor said, but is now its own nonprofit organization.

The Heber Springs dream center started in 2009 with a Saturday outreach in a mobile-home park, she said.

NorthStar EMS calls its fundraising arm Champions for Charity. Crew members get together to shop for presents for the Christmas Mall, as well as to donate to other charities.

Last year, NorthStar EMS bought $5,000 worth of toys.

This year, donations from a chili supper earlier this month were $1,700.

“That’s all we have this year,” Tutor said.

She said 40 to 50 toy drop-off boxes have been placed throughout Heber Springs and Cleburne County.

Tutor said she’s encouraging people to donate new, unwrapped toys or to make a financial donation. Jayson Jones Ford, 1810 Arkansas 25B, is the main drop-off location, she said.

Coy Duncan, supervisor of the Heber Springs NorthStar EMS station, said there was a reason the decision was made to hold only the chili supper.

“We’re a little bit lower [in funds] this year than in previous years,” Duncan said. “We normally did a poker run in past years, and we didn’t do it this year because it really didn’t draw in the people.”

Tutor said there were too many other poker runs about the same time.

The Christmas Mall started in 2011 at the Heber Springs dream center.

“The first year, people would call us and say, ‘I know a family who’s really needing Christmas.’ We just took [referrals by] word of mouth. We also went to the school system” and received a list of names, she said.

The Heber Springs dream center still depends on schools to identify children in need, she said.

“We get calls from people themselves: ‘We’re having desperate financial times. I’m a single mom with three kids,’” Tutor said.

The names are put into a database, Tutor said.

“We actually go to each house and hand invitations out,” she said.

Families are given an appointment time, starting at 9 a.m. that day.

“We tear down the sanctuary at [New Life] church — it takes a week,” she said “We take all the chairs out of the sanctuary and make the sanctuary the shopping mall.”

Tables are set up with toys arranged by age, newborn to 18, and male or female.

“[Families] come to their appointment time, and they’re treated with dignity, and it’s just a very loving atmosphere,” Tutor said.

“Each family has a personal shopping team, and they take them through the mall, and they pick gifts out.

“We pray with them if they wish.”

Children who come to the mall with their parents are taken to a craft area so they don’t see the presents, she said.

“Child care workers play games with them, give them snacks,” Tutor said.

“It’s a really cool, neat thing. The first year, we did 130 families, and it was around 230 kids. Last year, we did 250 families and 567 kids. It just gets bigger every year,” she said.

It takes a lot of people to make the magic happen.

“We have over 208 volunteers; that’s 10 different churches and an organization — all the churches and different organizations, like Rotary Club — and we have individuals come together to help,” she said.

The toys are wrapped and given to the family to take home.

“And at Christmas, the parents are the heroes,” she said.

“It’s very rewarding.”

Senior writer Tammy Keith can be reached at (501) 327-0370 or tkeith@arkansasonline.com.

Niche Publications Senior Writer Tammy Keith can be reached at 501-327-0370 or tkeith@arkansasonline.com.

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