The East Dallas Exchange Club has been outfitting needy children with hope for years.

Clothes, food and books are some of the necessities the club continues to distribute to the less fortunate youth in our neighborhood.

Mario Lopez, a third grader at Mount Auburn Elementary, was one of 80 children in our area this year to receive a down-jacket from the club. The jacket is the first in Mario’s wardrobe, and the gift was a surprise to him.

“It’s blue!” says Mario. “I like it cause it keeps me warm.”

“They (the students) love the coats,” says Mount Auburn Principal Arturo Cantu. “They come up here in T-shirts, and if it weren’t for those jackets, they would have nothing to wear.”

The club, which is limited to 50 members of the business community, digs up issues weighing down on our neighborhood and does something about them. It has done everything from buying and remodeling a home for orphans to feeding 4,000 handicapped children at the state fair, says G. Ray Holcomb, a club member since 1949.

“Our motto is ‘unity for service’. We can get together as a group and do more than you ever could individually,” says Jack D. Teter, whose father was a charter member of the club in 1948. Teter has been a member for five years.

There are no overhead costs to run the club, and members pay dues while an annual fund-raiser in September raises roughly $40,000.

Local businesses give the club discounts on services for community projects, which ultimately benefits everyone, says Teter, who owns Teter’s Faucet Parts in Lakewood.

The work is hands-on, and the reward for the community and club members are endless, says Holcomb, who has managed Top Hat Cleaners in Lakewood since 1949.

Holcomb sites an experience with the “Christmas in September” project, which pays for a school clothes shopping spree at JC Penney for approximately 20 underprivileged children. One of the children Holcomb was shopping with wanted blue jeans, but refused to take off his shoes to try them on.

Finally, after a lot of coaxing on Holcomb’s part, the boy looked up at him tearfully and said: “But I’ve got my Momma’s socks on.”

Holcomb replied: “We’ll get you some socks.”

“Now to me, that’s hands-on,” Holcomb says.

The club works in tandem with schools giving out Youth of the Year awards and scholarships to graduating seniors of Woodrow Wilson High School and sponsoring a school store at William Lipscomb Elementary, where children can redeem good behavior vouchers for school supplies.

“We try to come up with programs that will help kids who kind of fall through the cracks,” Teter says.

The club also has received a great deal of attention for its participation in the Exchange Club Center for the Prevention of Child Abuse, founded in 1992 by 13 Dallas-area chapters.

The EXCAP center is one of 75 of its kind initiated by the National Exchange Club Foundation. The center trains community volunteers to be parent aids to families at risk of abuse and neglect.

Community residents never cease to express their appreciation for the club’s services, Teter says.

Teter’s most memorable experience was at the state fair under the club’s food tent for the handicapped, he says.

There was a man pushing his wife in a wheelchair through the crowded tent while at the same time wheeling himself in his wheelchair.

“I asked the man if he wanted some help and he said – ‘Go help someone who needs help’ – then thanked us for the free chicken,” Teter says. “God help someone who needs help. That really hit me hard.”

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