By Jessica Brodie
MYRTLE BEACH—Macie McMillan has been collecting backpacks and school supplies for needy kids since she was 5 years old. Now in her fifth year running, she shows no signs of slowing down, and her story is inspiring a church and a community to do more for Jesus.
The Myrtle Beach fifth grader helped three students in kindergarten. She stepped up her efforts and provided 12 backpacks in first grade, 35 in second grade, 76 in third grade, 108 in fourth grade and, this year, a grand total of 174—all for kids who otherwise cannot afford what they need for a successful school experience.
“It’s important to me because when I was in kindergarten, three kids in my class didn’t have a backpack or school supplies,” Macie said. “We realized it was not just my class but every class—and every school.”
Her mother, Holly McMillan, said after their first year of collecting backpacks, they realized their coastal community had great need. A transient area with far more have-nots than haves, the school system has a high poverty rate; more than 80 percent of students in kindergarten through high school are part of the free or reduced lunch program.
Macie and her mom can’t do much about her peers’ financial situation. But when it comes to helping fellow kids level the playing field in the classroom and have the tools they need to be strong learners, they can make a difference.
“Macie is a beautiful reminder that what we adults do at church and at home to teach children about Jesus actually matters,” said one of her church’s associate pastors, the Rev. Jonathan Harris of First United Methodist Church, Myrtle Beach. “She is also an inspiration to consider the possibilities of what God could be calling us to do as a church. There are several hundred children over the past few years who were able to have what they needed for school because a young girl knew the love of Christ and wanted to embody it in a way that touched the lives of others. Just imagine what we could accomplish if we all did that.”
McMillan said the project started quietly and by chance, when she felt led to ask Macie’s kindergarten teacher to let her know if any students in the class needed anything for back-to-school. Sure enough, her teacher identified three children in need.
“Of course we did what anybody else would have done: went straight to the store and got what they needed,” McMillan said.
But as the year progressed and another student came in midyear without a backpack or supplies, McMillan and her daughter took pause. They did some research and discovered that poverty was a huge problem in local schools, not only in Macie’s class but also in every primary, elementary, intermediate, middle and high school in Myrtle Beach.
For Macie, it was her classmate Exziah, who was so proud of her brand-new purple backpack that she cried at the prospect of having to put it down on the dusty school floor, who really opened her eyes. She saw Exziah walk with her head held a little higher with that little purple backpack, and it warmed Macie’s heart.
“My child is very privileged,” McMillan said. “She gets what she needs and most of what she wants, throws her backpack down, gets a new one every year, but this child didn’t want to put hers on the ground and get it dirty. It really left an impression on Macie.”
That year when it came time for her birthday, Macie asked her mom to have her party guests bring a backpack instead of a gift. It was entirely Macie’s idea.
“A lot of kids are just not confident with their stuff in a Wal-Mart bag,” Macie said.
Later, as the new school year approached, Macie didn’t let up. She started going around to neighbors, close family friends, aunts and uncles and other family, asking for their change. The next year, her parents took to social media, and the project boomed. She was invited to speak at two different Rotary Clubs this year, plus her pastor lifted her efforts up at church, and everyone couldn’t help but donate to the cause.
“We had a lady in our church who handed her a check for $100 and said, ‘Macie, here’s for five backpacks; I want to get you going right,’” McMillan said.
Her pastor said Macie’s cause has resonated with the people of First, who are inspired by the young Christian’s efforts and passion to help people in need.
“I have no doubt that Macie’s efforts to collect backpacks over the past few years have opened the eyes of adults both inside and outside of the church to see that they, too, can actually make a difference in people’s lives,” Harris said. “If a 5-year-old (which is what she was when she started this project) can do this, then surely we all have something meaningful to offer to God’s kingdom and to our brothers and sisters.”
Harris said Macie’s story demonstrates that children and youth are perhaps the greatest agents for positive change in the church.
“They are not merely the future of the church; they are already an important part of its present,” Harris said.
McMillan said her daughter’s compassion continues to amaze her.
“I can’t even describe it—I’m just so incredibly proud of her,” McMillan said. “She has the biggest heart, and she truly does think of other people.
“She’s made me a better person.”
She said the experience is a constant reminder for Macie that she is blessed with more than most, and with those blessings come great responsibilities to give back and help others—and to always look for new opportunities to be the hands and feet of Christ.
Macie said she hopes telling her story will motivate others to do just that.
“I want them to think, to look around,” Macie said. “If they see someone who looks needy or homeless, just buy them shoes, or coats, whatever they need. Just try to look for a need and help. No matter how old you are or how young you are, you can do it.”
The McMillans say that while anyone is welcome to donate to First UMC (see www.fumcmb.org; check memo should note “Macie’s Backpack Program”), they prefer that people step up and be personally challenged by reaching out to schools in their community to help address needs.